A father said strategically placed luggage may have helped save his children when a deputy rammed into the family's van, sending himself and two others to the hospital for minor injuries.
At about 2 a.m. Sunday, the Auten family pulled off the West San Marcos Boulevard exit from State Route 78, returning from a trip to Wyoming.
As they waited at a red light, they saw multiple law enforcement vehicles pass them on their way to an emergency.
“We had a couple police vehicles pass us at a high rate of speed and then into the intersection,” said father Floyd Auten. “And I don't know if it was the third or fourth patrol vehicle that hit us, but we didn't have a whole lot of warning. It was pretty quick. I heard the screeching of tires and then the impact happened shortly after that.”
According to investigators, a San Diego County Sheriff’s deputy lost control of his car and slammed into the rear of the family's van.
Auten said a lot of small coincidences helped protect their kids, including some seat-trading before the long car ride and the way their suitcases were packed.
“We had luggage in the back and we feel that it protected our daughter,” said Auten. “And also the firefighters said we were lucky that that was in place. So, we feel blessed for that as well.”
The parents and their three children were in the van. A younger child was taken to the hospital for minor injuries, as were the deputy and a youth explorer riding with him.
"We're glad everyone's safe,” said Auten. “We're definitely we're concerned about the high rate of speed that the police officers were traveling. In my opinion it was reckless. So, we're glad to be alive but ... scary moment.”
The Autens gave NBC 7 pictures that show firefighters helping them out of the damaged van, which was towed away with a crumpled rear.
The crash shut down the intersection for about four hours as officials investigated.
The family said the little girl protected by the luggage was actually able to perform in two ballet recitals Sunday.
“We are a little sore but feeling better,” said Auten. “Pretty traumatic experience but everybody is whole so we feel grateful. We feel blessed for that.”