Former NFL player involved in rare tree crash at Balboa Park - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Former NFL player involved in rare tree crash at Balboa Park

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) – A rare tree in Balboa Park is severely damaged by a former NFL player and there is no word if he will face any crime in the reported hit-and-run crash.

Police say a driver of a 2013 Audi smashed into the rare Sapphire dragon tree at Balboa Drive and Quince Drive just before 5:00 a.m. Sunday morning and then took off on foot.

“Based on the description of the driver, officers found him about four blocks away,” said Lt. Kevin Mayer, San Diego Police Department.

Through DMV records CBS News 8 identified the driver as Brandon Chillar, 32, of Carlsbad.

He was a lineman for the St. Louis Rams and Green Bay Packers and retired in 2010. Carlsbad High School has him listed as a defensive coach for the football team.

CBS News 8 went to Chillar's home in Carlsbad but he didn't want to comment on camera. Off camera, Chillar says he fell asleep at the wheel and walked only about a block because he thought his car was going to blow up.

The former NFL player was not arrested, but police say they are investigating the crash as a hit-and-run.

Lt. Mayer says Chillar was not given special treatment rather he needed medical attention at the time of the crash, “He was transported to a local hospital for injuries.”

The park was closed during that time and the gate at Balboa Drive and Quince Drive was locked. Police say the driver was heading south on Balboa Drive when the crash happened.

“Looks like he ran the stop sign, then the pole which is a gate at that intersection, striking the tree and knocking the tree down,” said Lt. Mayer.

There is also a locked gate after hours at Upas and 6th Street. Chillar wouldn't say why or how he got inside the park at that time.

“At this point the officers who were at the scene do not believe alcohol was a factor,” said Mayer.

Chillar says he later went to the scene and saw the damage but was unaware of he took down the park's only Sapphire dragon tree.

“It's truly sad. It is an important tree, was an important tree and now it's gone,” said the city's Parks and Recreation spokesperson, Bill Harris.

The grove of Sapphire dragons, from the Paulownia kawakamii species, was planted in the late 1990's in Balboa Park.

“This was the last one that survived and it has been knocked down so we have no representation of this tree in Balboa Park any longer,” said Harris. “It was one-of-a-kind,” said Harris.

Police impounded the 2013 Audi and says the case is still under investigation. Chillar could also be held responsible for damages to the park's gate and tree.

Harris says the damage to the tree from the crash was so severe that the tree could not be saved. Some of the seeds were salvaged. Park officials do not believe they will be able to find another mature Sapphire dragon and will replace it with a Magnolia.

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