San Diego

Suspect in Stolen Car Smashes Into Restaurant on Main Street in El Cajon

El Cajon restaurant owners are thankful that they, or any of their patrons, weren't injured when a hit-and-run driver smashed a stolen car into their building on Main Street and ditched his car a few blocks away.

The car went through the front windows of Ali Baba Mediterranean restaurant near Avocado Avenue Wednesday just before 1 p.m. The driver backed out of the gaping hole his stolen sedan punched and fled south.

The El Cajon Police Department found the battered, grey four-door Lexus abandoned near the intersection of Taft and Pauline Avenues about a mile-and-a-half away, but the suspect could not be found.

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department ASTREA helicopter flew over the area to assist in the search.

The restaurant owner says that luckily the driver smashed into the banquet room and not the dining room right next to it. A repair crew spent the rest of the daylight hours repairing the framing on the front of the restaurant and covered the unfinished job with a large piece of plywood so that the eatery could keep serving customers.

Police say the driver was likely going to fast while turning left onto Main Street from Ballantyne and lost control. While Ali Baba owner Thair Behnan and his wife were documenting the damage to the building on their cell phone, another car came speeding around the bend and nearly gave the restaurant a second hole.

"I suddenly hear some fast car moving like crazy and boom,” Behnan’s wife said.

The ECPD says the Lexus was stolen out of San Diego. It left tire marks on the banquet room floor and didn’t stop until it was halfway in the room.

"His tires were spinning,” Behnan said. "The police were across the street. They tried to stop him, he never listened to them, he just fled."

The left-hand turn from Ballantyne onto Main Street has a storied past. Police say a yellow pole divider was installed to prevent drivers from cutting through the 7-Eleven parking lot. Other shop owners near the corner say its design pushes traffic into a wider turn.

"There is a car parked right there and then somebody barely scratches them or hits them on the rear,” nearby store owner Jaime Delgado said.

Behnan called Wednesday’s accident the worst he’s seen in the 17 years he has operated the Ali Baba. There were no injuries, so Behnan is counting his blessings.

"Everyone is safe,” he said. “This can be repaired and the building is insured."

ECPD has no description of the suspect driver at this time.

City engineers are scheduled to assess the damage to Ali Baba on Thursday and could possibly shut the restaurant down until necessary repairs are made.

No other information was available.

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