By PEGGY O'HARE
Nov. 12, 2009, 11:09PM
It was a great day for the brown pelican Wednesday, being taken off the endangered species list, but the driver of a rare 2006 Bugatti Veyron EB — one of only 15 in the U.S. — may be wishing he had never set eyes on one of the ungainly creatures.
That's because a low-flying pelican startled him as he was driving on the Interstate 45 feeder in La Marque, causing him to veer off the road and land the million-dollar car in 3 feet of water that reached up to the door handles.
The Lufkin man, whose name La Marque police refused to release, is a collector of exotic cars and had purchased the Bugatti just last month from a Jonesboro, Ark., dealer, who offered it for sale for $1.25 million.
Now, the wayward driver has become something of a celebrity, with his phone ringing off the hook. He told the Texas City wrecker driver who towed his car that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called him Wednesday, along with several other celebrities.
“He said he was getting so many calls that he finally stopped answering his phone,” said wrecker driver Gilbert Harrison of MCH Truck and Auto, which is storing the mudcaked sports car.
The Bugatti Veyron, made by a Volkswagen subsidiary, is the fastest and most expensive production car in the world, capable of reaching 253 mph, said Elite Autos owner Shelby Smith, who sold the car. The vehicle has 1,001 horsepower and is almost entirely electronic.
Smith, who said his Arkansas dealership does most of its business over the Internet, said he could not disclose the man's name or the final sales price. But Smith said the man is a “repeat customer.”
The Bugatti had only 500 miles on its odometer when the Lufkin man purchased it.
Smith said he spoke to the driver about two hours after the accident and believes the vehicle will be a total loss.
The driver seemed to take his very expensive mistake in stride, Harrison said.
“He was calm,” Harrison said. “If it had been me, I'd have been cussing, but he was calm. I imagine inside he was probably pretty upset.”
The car crashed at 3 p.m. Wednesday as the driver was northbound in the 700 block of the freeway's feeder road and his cell phone slipped out of the car's center console, Smith said. The man was not on his phone at the time, but reached to retrieve it from the floorboard.
When the driver sat up, he was startled by the bird, flying low alongside the Bugatti, Smith said. His right front tire strayed onto the shoulder of the road, said La Marque police Lt. Greg Gilchrist.
“He couldn't regain control,” Gilchrist said, noting that no guardrails separate the road from the water at that point in the road.
The car landed 20 to 25 feet from the feeder road, according to Gilchrist, who said he found no indication that driver had been speeding.
Crabs were seen crawling around the tow truck after the sports car had been loaded on board, said MCH Truck and Auto owner Jim Morris.
“It hurts your ego more than anything,” Smith said of his customer's reaction to the wreck. “He wasn't doing anything stupid.”
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