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Car plunges off Stearns Wharf into ocean

A driver described as a middle-aged man from Chicago, drove his car off Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara and into the water. Santa Barbara City firefighters, Harbor Patrol and Santa Barbara police arrived on scene shortly after the incident.

The accident occurred at about 1:49 p.m. Friday, on the east side of the wharf (across Moby Dick Restaurant), near the maintenance shack. The driver, Tom Zobel, told NewsChannel 3 Senior Reporter John Palminteri that he accidentally hit the gas pedal instead of the brake, sending the Volkswagen Passat into the water from its parking stall.

Zobel managed to get out safely even though the air bags had deployed. He swam to the nearest ladder to climb up to the pier, but suffered a hand injury and some bruises. He received medical attention on scene and was not taken to the hospital. He was the only occupant of the car at the time of the incident. Some family members were nearby.

The vehicle became quickly submerged 15 feet underwater after jumping a wooden parking block and going off the pier, according to investigators. There was no damage to the wharf. The drop was about 20 between the edge of the wharf and the ocean.

Access to the wharf was temporarily closed to allow emergency vehicles to enter the area.

An eyewitness said many people gathered to help Zobel but he made it out on his own. The car went under about five seconds later.

No other details were immediately known. The incident remains under investigation.

Santa Barbara Police officers provided rides for the Zobel family to get the help they needed after the accident, including new transportation and dry clothing for the driver.

Late this afternoon a plan was being worked on with the Coast Guard to hoist the vehicle out of the water.

On scene video clip of a Volkswagen Passat submerged underwater after a visitor from Chicago drove off Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara. (Video: John Palminteri / KEYT)

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