Excessive drinking apparently caused an Avondale neighborhood man with no criminal history to jump behind the wheel of Chicago Fire Department ambulance No. 52 and drive it for more than a mile before crashing into four parked cars causing more than $100,000 early Sunday.
Juan J. Hernandez, 36, of the 3600 block of West Belmont Avenue, was charged with driving while under the influence, criminal damage to government property, possession of a stolen motor vehicle, reckless driving and failure to carry a driver’s license, according to a police News Affairs statement.
The bizarre incident unfolded about 1:40 a.m. as the ambulance was parked at Norwegian American Hospital, 2900 W. Cortez St., police said.
One of two paramedics assigned to the ambulance was inside the hospital while the other was outside in back of the vehicle, according to Shakespeare District police Lt. Michael Mulkerin.
“He had just shut its doors, and then he hears the transmission shifting gears. He said: ‘What the hell -- where’s my ambulance going,’ because he knew no one was inside,"'said Mulkerin.
When Hernandez “took off" in it, the paramedic ran into the hospital and called 911.
Dispatchers got on the air, gave a description to police who “grabbed him" at 2546 W. Cortland St., about a mile and a half north from where it was taken.
But not before he hit four parked cars near Cortland and Rockwell, according to Mulkerin.
It was not immediatley known how badly the cars were damaged, but he caused more than $100,000 in damage to the ambulance, which is why authorities were able to bring the felony charge of damage to government property.
“Those ambulances aren’t cheap – they are loaded with equipment," Mulkerin said.
Hernandez was taken back to Norwegian American Hospital in good condition and was treated for minor injuries he suffered when he crashed the ambulance, police said.
No patients were inside the ambulance and Hernandez was not with anyone when the incident occurred.
Hernandez did not list an occupation in an arrest report and he has has “very little" criminal background, just an arrest in 2006 for domestic battery -- a charge that was later dropped, according to the lieutenant.
He told police he does not know how he got to the location where he was arrested.
“Apparently, he got so inebriated he does not know what he did," said Mulkerin.
Hernandez is scheduled to appear in court Monday.