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Hospital crash surveillance video surfaces as council safety change filed

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Project Summary:

This story is part of KXAN’s “Preventing Disaster” investigation, which initially published on May 15, 2024. The project follows a fatal car crash into an Austin hospital’s emergency room earlier that year. Our team took a broader look at safety concerns with that crash and hundreds of others across the nation – including whether medical sites had security barriers – known as bollards – at their entrances. Experts say those could stop crashes from happening.

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Newly viewed surveillance video taken from inside the lobby of St. David’s North Austin Medical Center shows the hard-to-watch moment when the Bernard family were run over by a drunk driver, who was killed by the impact.

The video comes as Austin City Council Member Mackenzie Kelly filed a resolution, published late Friday, that aims to “prevent vehicle crashes at medical facilities” by requiring crash-rated safety bollards at all new hospital entrances built in the future.

The footage shows Levi and Nadia Bernard standing in front of the large lobby aquarium on Feb. 13 as their two toddlers kneel on its ledge, their faces pressing tight against the glass. In an instant, a vehicle speeds into frame, swallowing the family as the fish tank explodes – sending glass, water and wood debris flying everywhere.

photos showing no bollards near ER, car crashed into ER and bollards added
After a car crashed into St. David’s North Austin Medical Center, it added security barriers, called bollards, near the ER entrance (Photos from: Howry, Breen & Herman; Diane Warmoth)

The vehicle comes to a stop next to the ER’s information and registration desks. The tail lights are flashing. The video shows Nadia, whose leg is broken, lying on the ground to the right of the car holding their oldest son, Rio, who is crying. Levi gets up and climbs on top of and over the car in a frantic search for their now-2-year-old, Sunny, who went through the car’s windshield.

The overhead surveillance video doesn’t have audio but captures the chaotic moments before and after the crash as hospital workers rush to try to help as smoke fills the lobby. It was shown to KXAN by a source who said it was obtained from Austin police. KXAN has opted, at this time, not to publish or air the video, since St. David’s owns the footage and has not yet given us legal permission to show it. KXAN has separately requested the video from APD and is awaiting a final determination on its release. We asked St. David’s for comment on the video but, as of publication, it has not responded yet.

Bystander video previously given to KXAN showed the immediate aftermath from inside but this is our first look at how it happened, how the family took a direct hit, and how fast the driver, whose blood alcohol content was between three and four times the legal limit to drive, appeared to be going. The incident is detailed in the family’s million-dollar lawsuit against St. David’s HealthCare accusing one of the largest health systems in Texas of “gross negligence” for not having bollards at the time. A dozen of those security barriers were installed after the crash, including five installed after KXAN’s investigation.

“The video will show exactly what happens when hospitals delay installing protective safety bollards – families get run over in devastating fashion,” said the Bernard family’s attorney, Sean Breen. “If St. David’s had installed safety bollards there like it should have and did in other facilities, the car would have never crashed into the ER and the Bernard family never gets run over.”

This week, another victim was added to that lawsuit, alleging the crash also caused him “severe injuries.” At least five people, including all four members of the Bernard family, were injured.

“The safety of our patients and their families, as well as our employees and visitors, is always our top priority,” St. David’s HealthCare previously said in a statement, adding, per policy, “we do not comment on pending claims or litigation.”

KXAN investigation sparks resolution for Austin hospital safety

In addition to requiring bollards at new hospitals in Austin, Kelly’s draft resolution tasks the city manager with finding ways to incentivize existing hospitals to voluntarily install bollards or in some cases – if a hospital applies for a permit to build or expand, for example – trigger a requirement.

Hospitals, not taxpayers, would pay for the bollards.

“The team at KXAN did such a good job of explaining the problem and providing potential solutions that it would have been stupid for me not to have looked into this as a solution for the city of Austin,” said Kelly. “I mean, I’ve always been dedicated to public safety.”

KXAN’s investigation is credited in a draft copy of the resolution (Courtesy Mackenzie Kelly)

The resolution would initiate an amendment to the city code and specifically mentions how “a KXAN investigation found that similar incidents have happened more than 300 times across the country” in the last decade.

Our ongoing investigation continues to track crashes into medical centers and found, to this point, more than 340.

In May, Kelly directed her staff to take action on this issue in the middle of watching our investigation.

“After we spoke, I moved forward by taking action to prevent accidents like these from occurring in the future,” Kelly said. “I wanted to make sure every resident in the city of Austin is safe when they are visiting a hospital or emergency room.”

Three other council members have co-sponsored her resolution, including Vanessa Fuentes, who previously told KXAN she wanted to prevent what happened to the Bernard family from happening to anyone else. Council Members Ryan Alter and Jose “Chito” Vela have also signed on, according to the agenda.

Council Member Mackenzie Kelly spoke with KXAN investigative reporter Matt Grant about her resolution (KXAN Photo/Chris Nelson)

The potential policy change will need at least one more vote to pass, Kelly said.

Both Levi and Nadia, who is still in a wheelchair, are expected to testify to council members in favor of the resolution, their attorney confirmed.

“Nadia cried when she heard that news that lawmakers are taking this seriously, amazing how quickly your story is getting attention,” Levi told KXAN in May after Kelly and Fuentes promised to look into a bollard requirement.

“I am very sorry that that tragedy happened to them,” Kelly told KXAN, before the resolution was made public. “But, it’s my goal to prevent it from happening to anybody else in the future. And it warms my heart that they’re touched that we’re doing this. Unfortunately, sometimes in life it takes a sort of tragedy to enact change. But my hope is that this never happens again.”

Read Austin City Council Member Mackenzie Kelly’s draft resolutionDownload

Kelly hopes her resolution will serve as a model for other cities around the country. Last month, a College Station city council member said he too was looking into a bollard ordinance in response to KXAN’s investigation.



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“To see the problem, and then the solution from you all, and just to know and understand from across the country that this is a much larger problem than just the city of Austin,” Kelly said. “I wanted the city of Austin to lead on it.”

Asked if she’s optimistic the measure will pass, Kelly responded, confidently: “Oh absolutely. Yes.”

If that happens, the city manager would have until Oct. 31 to bring forward proposed changes. The council is expected to vote on the resolution at its next meeting on July 18.

Director of Investigations & Innovation Josh Hinkle, Investigative Photojournalist Chris Nelson, Digital Special Projects Developer Robert Sims and Digital Director Kate Winkle contributed to this report.



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