The Journal Gazette
Sunday, December 01, 2019 1:00 am

When drivers ram houses, or cars, the damage adds up

JIM CHAPMAN | The Journal Gazette

Tire tracks in the front yard, yellow tape and a slanted front porch were the telltale signs. A car veered off Lafayette Street and struck a home. The engine was smoking and the driver in the Nov. 20 incident complained of pain, police said.

In October, a pickup truck pulled into the lot of Preferred Automotive Group's Lima Road location. The driver circled the inventory of vehicles just before closing time, gunned the engine and slammed into a Jeep Patriot, pushing it into another Jeep Patriot, causing about $7,000 damage.

Drivers cause extensive and expensive damage when they plow into buildings or parked cars – intentionally or not. Police officers have to determine how the crashes occurred and inspectors often have the structures – homes and commercial buildings – condemned.

“It probably happens a little more often than what it seems like,” said Lt. Tony Maze of the Fort Wayne Police Department.

It's unclear how many times vehicles run into buildings locally. Statistically, those crashes aren't separated from other vehicle collisions police investigate.

Paul Davis Restoration, a general contractor that provides water, fire and mold damage, confirmed it was called to 43 -50 buildings damaged by vehicles, mostly in Allen County, this year.  Last year, the company was called to 37 buildings with such damage. The company provided damage estimates or emergency services at those buildings.

Of the 12,352 vehicle crashes investigated by police in Allen County through mid-November this year, 1,636 involved parked vehicles. Last year, police investigated 13,862 vehicle crashes, and 1,815 of them involved parked vehicles – one was fatal when a pedestrian was pinned between a moving vehicle and parked vehicle. 

Most of these types of crashes don't involve serious injuries, Maze said.

It's unclear why the driver hit the home on Lafayette, but the causes vary. Some drivers are confused or aren't paying attention. They punch the accelerator when they meant to hit the brake, Maze said.

Some drivers are drunk.

In March, Ashlee N. Abbott, 25, crashed a vehicle into Klemm's Candlelight Cafe on East State Boulevard. She pleaded guilty in July to felony criminal mischief and operating a vehicle while intoxicated and was handed a 2 1/2-year sentence with two years suspended.

In late July, Mona D. McCoy, 59, told police her brakes failed when she crashed into Belmont Beverage at 1414 E. Tillman Road. An employee was seriously injured in the crash.

McCoy initially faced several drunken driving charges.

Prosecutors allowed the charges to expire without formal charges being filed. The prosecutor's office said last week the case is still under investigation. 

Some crashes have occurred during police chases. Sofia Rosales-Scatena, Fort Wayne police public information officer, said supervisors monitor each chase from the beginning and decide whether to continue them depending on factors such as location and how crowded the areas are, as well as speed and weather.

Curtis E. Thomas Jr. fled police March 14 after they tried to pull him over for having expired license plates. Driving a Ford Taurus around 90 mph on Goshen Avenue, he turned east onto West State Boulevard and ran into the front porch of a home. He was caught after leading police on a foot chase, according to court records.

Thomas, 27, was given a 21/2-year sentence with two years suspended after pleading guilty to felony resisting law enforcement and misdemeanor criminal mischief.

When homes are struck, police must check to make sure they're safe before they investigate.

“Anytime a car goes into a structure, if you pull (the vehicle) out, will (the building) come down?” Rosales-Scatena asked.

When a man drove into a vacant house on Oliver Street the same day he was shot and killed by a police officer May 22, investigators had to wait before entering the building because it was unsound, she said. 

A visit by the Allen County Building Department or Neighborhood Code Enforcement often means homes are condemned and boarded up if needed.

The two vehicles damaged at Preferred Automotive on Oct. 17 have been repaired, but the driver who caused the damage hasn't been caught. Police are looking for a gold, mid-1990s General Motors two-wheel-drive pickup with a regular cab. It has damage to its left front end from slamming into the two Jeeps.

“In 30 years, we've never had anything like this happen,” said Jay Leonard, Preferred Automotive owner.

The company has since updated its security cameras at all three stores, he said.

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