Taking a hit
One loopy turn at a downtown intersection ended in wreckage.
Now a downtown business owner wonders if she'll be stuck with costly repairs.
Last week late Sunday night, a 19-year-old Minnesota man from the Kinnic Falls halfway house turned so widely from Maple Street onto Main Street that his 1997 Ford Explorer wound up in the corner storefront of Beyond Lighting.
The impact left a horizontal hole, shattered a window panel and caused others to bulge, cracked the foundation, and dribbled debris and oil down on owner April Ingalls' basement office.
In the store's interior, a window display stage was damaged, along with a Tiffany fireplace screen, some clothes and shoes.
Ingalls owns the building mall that includes her store, Beyond Lighting, plus three other shops -- Little New York, Flashback Film & Video Transfer and Wild Violets boutique.
Contractor estimates put repairs at $40,000. A corner building section may need to be cut away to reach the cracked foundation.
More troubling, Ingalls says, is that while the young driver told police he has American Family insurance, her insurance company finds no evidence that he's really insured.
"I'm just waiting, getting more estimates, having an engineer come to inspect the foundation, and seeing whose pocket this is going to come out of," she said. "I've been through a lot of emotions, and right now I'm frustrated.
"I don't do well when I lack information. There's uncertainty with how this will end, and the building needs immediate attention."
Patrick Simon, director of Kinnic Falls, said confidentiality laws prevent him from giving out any information about halfway house clients.
Driver Stephen M. Tauer was cited for inattentive driving and not buckling up. He told police he was very tired and remembers nothing leading up to the crash.
The police report says when the downtown crash occurred it was a "dry, clear night." The driver's condition was listed as "reduced alertness."
Police Sgt. Jon Aubart said there was no evidence at the crash site of alcohol use, but that Tauer's blood sample was sent to a state hygiene lab in Madison.
The sample will be tested for the presence of alcohol or drugs. Results won't be known for two weeks.
Aubart said if the test reveals drugs, Tauer could get another, more expensive citation for either driving while impaired or driving with a controlled substance.
While Wisconsin law changes June 1, there's no current requirement that drivers have auto insurance. For that reason, Aubart said insurance coverage isn't an issue police can pursue in this investigation.
Ingalls said her first thought when called to the crash of her business was for the young driver.
"My heart went out to this kid," she said. "My biggest concern was if he'd be OK. You could see blood on the sidewalk where he crashed."
Tauer was taken by ambulance to the hospital. Ingalls said she heard his teeth were knocked out and he needed to have a broken jaw wired shut.
For Ingalls, the accident was timed almost to the day of her Beyond Lighting business's fourth anniversary.
"April Fool's Day on me," she laughed. "I really don't need this kind of thing to happen -- 2009, with the recession, was a horrible year for all of us here."
Ingalls said her store once averaged 30 major jobs per month for new house furnishings and major home décor and lighting upgrades.
Last year, that figure sank to "one major job every three months."
Her walk-in customers kept business afloat. Just lately, she says, there's been a sales uptick that offers promise for a better 2010.
"You want it all to turn around now, and this is an inconvenience I don't need after last year," she said.
Ingalls said she and her associates in the building mall often spot drivers making illegal U-turns at the Main/Maple intersection.
"We always say that one of these days, one of them is going to turn too wide and end up going through our front doors," she said. "When I first was called about this crash, that's what I thought had happened."
Ingalls said it's hard to imagine how a driver turning from Maple Street could miss Main Street and pile into her building.
If her insurance is forced to cover building repairs, Ingalls has a $5,000 deductible to pay. She also worries her insurance premium could rise or she could be dropped for the large claim.
Meanwhile, Ingalls says all she can do is "keep waiting for answers" to see how events play out.