Driver of car that crashed into Harry’s Coffee Shop in La Jolla says he ‘couldn’t stop’

A 2008 Lexus RX 350 is removed from Harry's Coffee Shop after crashing into it May 12.
This 2008 Lexus RX 350, pictured being removed from Harry’s Coffee Shop after crashing into it May 12, is a “total loss,” owner and driver Jay Zybelman says.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Roughly two weeks after a car crashed into Harry’s Coffee Shop in La Jolla, injuring three people, the driver of the car says he wants to present “a different view of what happened.”

“I’m not an impaired senior,” said La Jolla resident Jay Zybelman, 73. “I’ve never been in an accident before.”

Zybelman said he was driving his 2008 Lexus RX 350 in the parking lot after eating at the Girard Avenue restaurant the morning of May 12 when the crash occurred.

The car, with Zybelman’s wife, Kathleen, also inside, smashed into the rear of Harry’s, hitting the restrooms and the kitchen and causing heavy damage to both the building and the vehicle.

“I pulled out of the parking lot,” Zybelman said. “I went into reverse. My engine started to race. It was revving very fast.”

He said he “quickly put it into drive and the car took off really fast. I put my foot on the brake and I couldn’t stop it.”

Zybelman said he “had a choice of going left [south down the alley] or going straight ahead, and I decided to go straight ahead because I thought there might be people in the alleyway.”

“I made the split-second decision,” he said. “I don’t know what would have happened if I had gone into the alley.”

“It was frightening,” Zybelman said.

The Zybelmans were taken to a hospital. Jay had “some back and neck pain” and was released, while Kathleen suffered a fractured C2 vertebra in her neck and two broken ribs, Jay said.

She is wearing a collar brace to aid healing and was still in the hospital May 24, Jay said. He said she will be released soon to a nursing facility and that her injuries are expected to heal in about three months.

A kitchen employee suffered minor bumps and bruises when the car hit the wall, pushing the sink and other kitchen equipment into the employee. The worker declined to go to a hospital and was instead treated at the scene and released.

Harry's Coffee Shop was damaged when a car struck the rear of the restaurant May 12.
Harry’s Coffee Shop was damaged when a car struck the rear of the restaurant May 12.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The Lexus, which Jay Zybelman bought new, is “a total loss,” he said.

He said he didn’t know whether the brake was malfunctioning but is working with his insurance company to have the car tested as soon as possible.

The San Diego Police Department did not respond to a request for comment. Authorities initially reported that the vehicle’s driver, whom they did not identify at the time, mistook the accelerator for the brake.

Zybelman said he hasn’t had contact with anyone at Harry’s since the incident.

The crash caused fire crews to evacuate Harry’s and the two adjacent buildings while they secured utility lines. Harry’s has been closed since the crash as owner John Rudolph works to reopen it. The restaurant was started in 1960 by Rudolph’s father, Harry.

Rudolph said he is still “hoping for the most expeditious opening, but we’re at the mercy of building schedules, codes, insurance, etc. We’re doing our best to open quickly and safely.” ◆