Homeowners inside escaped amid "smoke and mist," and natural gas.
Jeff Salmi, jolted awake in the middle of the night Friday after hearing a loud noise and being shaken in his bed, looked down the interior steps of his Blaine home and saw "smoke and mist filling the air."
"At first, I thought the house was on fire," Salmi said. "I looked, and there was a car at the bottom of the stairs."
The terrifying awakening happened when an SUV driver who had been briefly followed by police slammed his vehicle into Salmi's home in the 10400 block of Terrace Road about 2:50 a.m., authorities said.
The driver was killed in the crash. Later Friday, he was identified as Matthew J. Gray, 31, of Blaine. State records list him as the SUV's owner.
Salmi said police were there quickly and screaming for him and his wife, Eileen, to get out because natural gas was leaking from the house's damaged meter.
"I thought it was going to blow," said Salmi, who has lived there since 1985. "I could taste [evidence of the leak]. It was getting overbearing."
Jeff and Eileen Salmi, both 52, escaped through an upstairs window and onto the roof of the garage, then into the waiting arms of officers below who assured them "we'll catch you."
The sequence of events leading up to the crash began when a 911 caller said she saw a man looking through several cars near 107th Avenue and Presidents Drive NE., police said. The caller reported seeing the man get in an SUV and drive away.
There had been concern in the area about car thefts, and "he was looking through vehicles ... and then left in this vehicle that was most likely his," said Lt. Paul Lenzmeier of the Anoka County Sheriff's Office.
As police came to 109th and Terrace, they saw the SUV. As the squad car turned, the SUV abruptly changed directions and sped out of sight.
Moments later, an officer saw a cloud of dust and smoke ahead, police said. The SUV had crashed into the house and the gas meter.
Once the utility shut off the gas, a tow truck pulled the vehicle from the home's interior. Gray died at the scene.
State records show Gray had two convictions for driving on a suspended license.
On Friday afternoon, Gray's family members issued this statement: "We are deeply grateful for the life of our son, husband and father, Matthew Joseph Gray. We are thankful that no one else was injured this morning. We ask for your prayers and request privacy during this time of grief." They added that they would have no further comment.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482