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CarAttacksHouse / Car Attacks House

Car Attacks House

From outside
Car in house

Shortly after midnight on Sunday, 17 August 2003, a car jumped the curb and flew over 60 feet, coming to rest fully inside our house. It took out the side and a corner of the garage, half the laundry room, and destroyed the dining room and entryway, including the upstairs staircase. Despite the devastation to property, thankfully no injuries resulted from the incident. The driver, a 17-year-old at the time, fled the scene, was arrested by police a couple of days later, and eventually received only a slap on the wrist from our marvelous judicial system. Though he and his mother promised the court to reimburse the victims (us) for costs not covered by insurance, they refused all efforts at communication with us or our insurance company lawyers, and they eventually filed bankruptcy to avoid paying anything to the insurance company.

After 98 days of temporary housing, we were able to return to our house the weekend before Thanksgiving 2003. It would be several more months before all the details of repairing the house would be completed. It was obvious who our insurance adjuster was working for, and it certainly wasn’t us. He fought us nearly every step of the way and our insurance agent was totally useless in the struggle — so much for being “a good neighbor”. Even the contractors were frustrated and exasperated with him at times (as we occasionally were with them).

On the other hand, we did have good neighbors and friends. As a family, the common struggles and trials brought us closer together (and not just because we had to squeeze into a two bedroom apartment for three months). And, although it took a little unexpected bite out of our budget, we were able to do some redecorating and improvements to the house that we probably never would have gotten around to.

By the way, the driver was (according to his friends) drunk, driving a friend’s car without permission (so that the car owner’s insurance company was not liable for any damages), and coming from a party of Lutheran High School students at which an adult (the mother of the host of the party) was present (but also not responsible, somehow, though alcohol was freely available to and used by party guests). And you wonder why I have an aversion to those who drink irresponsibly — did you ever hear about the Worship Pastor of our church killed by a drunk driver a couple of weeks before our annual Living Christmas Tree musical concert series was to begin? Anyway…

The Event

It is shortly after 12:15 am, and I am at the computer in the living room working on a birthday card for our first grandchild’s first birthday. I would normally be working at the computer in the basement, but (fortunately for me) I want to be close to the printer in the living room.

Friday afternoon, our daughter and her son grew tired of sitting in a hot house (in Chelsea, MI) without electricity, being one of the millions affected by the Blackout of 2003, so they came down to our house. As soon as they arrived, her husband called to say the power had just come back on. Not really wanting to drive another two or more hours back home right away, Denise convinced them to spend the night if she promised to go back with them Saturday morning to help get everything ready for the BIG birthday party on Sunday. So, Denise is in Michigan… and the boys are upstairs asleep.

Suddenly, I hear a loud sound outside… what would a big truck be doing rumbling by this time of night? The sound gets louder and seems to move inside the house, the house shakes violently for a couple of seconds (though it seems much longer). Just as suddenly as it started, it’s over and quiet returns. A thin cloud of white dust fills the room.

My first thought is perhaps it was an earthquake; but the shaking was much more violent and rapid than the 6.4 earthquake I experienced in San Jose, California, nearly twenty years ago. My second thought is wondering what Nathaniel could have tipped over up in his bedroom that would be heavy enough to make that loud noise and cause something to fall from the ceiling in the entryway (his room is above the entryway). I scream to the boys, “What the heck was that??”

I get up from the chair and move toward the entryway just a few feet away. There’s the little black rocker from the entryway… it’s now in the living room, broken nearly in half (but Winnie the Pooh is still sitting on it). Now I notice the tiny little sunflower chair (it’s about 8 inches high and our grandson is fascinated by it) that sits by the front door has fallen over and has a broken leg. Now I see the entryway is FULL of debris. This is not just something that has fallen from the ceiling.

That’s the banister of the stairs going upstairs… but it is supposed to be on the other side of the entryway, not near the living room! The entire staircase has been displaced!! The stairs are completely broken away from the upstairs hallway, laying diagonally across…

Entryway
Entryway

THERE IS A CAR STRADDLING THE STAIRWELL, COMING FROM THE DINING ROOM INTO THE ENTRYWAY!!!!!

The front driver’s side tire is resting on the entryway’s wood floor, the side view mirror of the car is dangling by its wires from the driver’s door, the driver’s door is pinned against the huge hole the car has made in the dining room wall (where the staircase use to be).

I make my way through the debris into the dining room and try to turn on the dining room light. The dimmer knob is missing, and the light won’t come on. I am screaming “What the heck were you doing?? What the heck were you thinking??” at the car and its unseen driver. The light comes on in the car and I can see somebody getting out the passenger door. There is no one else in the car. The guy getting out of the car doesn’t respond to my screaming, but closes the door and disappears out the hole his car has created in the dining room wall and into the darkness outside.

Now I see that the car also took out the outside wall of the laundry room, which lies between the dining room and the garage. I can see all the way into the garage, the corner of the garage nearest me is completely gone. I see the washing machine, but I only see a mass of twisted white metal where the dryer should be. I can smell natural gas. The natural gas pipe and/or its connection to the gas dryer is broken and leaking!!

I go back into the entryway, to where the bottom of the stairs should be and look upstairs. There’s no way anybody can use those steps to get up or down. There’s a thin white cloud lingering in the hallway upstairs (I later realize it is drywall dust that hasn’t settled). I worry that Nathaniel will come running from his bedroom and start down the stairs without noticing that they aren’t there anymore. I yell upstairs for the boys. Josh answers immediately, but I have to yell “Nathaniel” several times before he responds (either in the fog of sleep or of shock, I can’t tell which). After making sure they are both uninjured, I say, “Don’t try to come down the stairs! Just stay in your rooms until I tell you otherwise. Open a window and stay by the window!”

First Response

I am barefooted. I notice that there is broken glass and china, shattered wood furniture, and broken studs with exposed nails, covering the entryway floor. I need shoes, but they are in the closet just inside the entry from the garage by the laundry room. I can’t get through to that side of the house… the car and the stairs completely fill the entryway, the rest of the car fills the dining room. I need to go outside and come in through the garage.

I can barely get the front door open, but manage to squeeze through. Someone is coming up to me saying, “I’m a nurse. Are you alright? Is anybody inside hurt?” I tell her I’m fine, but the boys are trapped upstairs, the stairs are gone, and the gas dryer has been destroyed and there is natural gas leaking from it. I think she goes back toward the small crowd of people that has assembled in front of my house; but I don’t really notice. Is the driver in that crowd of people? Not now… I head toward the garage.

First view
What I see as I head to garage

I pass where the car entered the house… I can’t take time to look, I need to get my shoes. I make it to the garage door and enter the code on the keypad; fortunately, the door opens. There is debris piled up against the driver’s side of the Civic, there is a bicycle (and other debris) on it’s hood. There is a head of a croquet mallet on the floor, the handle shattered near the head.

The door into the house is locked. My keys are in the same closet my shoes are in. Now how do I get in?

Oh, yeah. I have a key hidden in the garage. Yes, it’s right where I thought it was. (By the way, there is no longer a key hidden in the garage.) I get the door unlocked but there is something blocking it from the inside. The closet door has come open and is blocking the way. I reach in and manage to close it enough to push my way inside. The closet door is halfway off track, so I take it completely off and set it in the little half bath across from the laundry room.

The back wall of the closet is punched into the closet… the shelf and clothes rod is dangling diagonally. The little shelves we put our shoes are on is akilter, but I find my tennis shoes. I don’t have any socks, I just put the tennis shoes on.

A police officer is coming up the driveway; I go out to meet him. He wants information… name, address (doesn’t he know where he is?), is anybody inside hurt. I tell him there are two boys trapped upstairs, there are no stairs, and the gas dryer has been destroyed and there is a natural gas leak. He goes to call for the fire department.

Neighbors come up to me and say things. More police officers ask me questions. Is anybody in the car? No, there was only the driver and I don’t know where he is; perhaps he is in the growing crowd of people gathering here.

A police officer says they won’t try to remove the car until a contractor comes out and makes sure its safe to remove it. Where do I get a contractor at 12:30 in the morning? He tells me the insurance company usually helps with that.

The fire truck is approaching and I leave everyone who has gathered round. Before the truck comes to a stop, some of the firemen exclaim that they smell natural gas. I tell them to follow me to the gas meter, which is around back. After an eternity of grunting and pulling (perhaps 15 seconds), the fireman gets the gas shut off.

There are two boys trapped in the house, I tell them. They are upstairs and there are no stairs anymore. Someone pokes his head in the front door and confirms that the stairs are unusable. I yell up to the boys to get shirts on and take the screens out of their windows. Nathaniel can’t get the screen out. I ask him if he can get to Josh’s room. He says yes. I yell up to remind him to turn of the light in his bedroom.

The firemen get a ladder up to the open window in Josh’s room. A fireman climbs up and clambers in the window head first, rather ungracefully. Of course, he is in full gear. Nathaniel comes down the ladder, quite shaken up, and runs over to me and hugs me tightly. Josh comes down the ladder, but has difficulty because of his knee. I need to get a phone. I turn to head for the garage but realize that I should go make sure Josh is alright now that he is down the ladder.

Insurance and Contractors

Laundry room
Looking into laundry room

I go back into the house through the garage. The chair that was sitting in the laundry room by the window is now sitting at the laundry room door. There is debris in the laundry room piled at least four feet deep. I hope Buffy (our cat) wasn’t in the laundry room getting a midnight snack or using the litter box! Glass is scattered across the hallway floor and into the half bath acroos the hall.

There is a door lying in the middle of the kitchen floor. It is from the doorway between the kitchen and dining room. The top part of the dryer is sitting in that doorway. A knob from the dryer is sitting by the dining table in the eat-in part of the kitchen. Where is Buffy?

The cordless phone has been knocked from its cradle which hangs on the wall between the kitchen and dining room. It’s lying on the little cabinet beneath where it hangs. The little bulletin board next to the phone is dangling from one corner.

I open the door to the basement… or was it open already? I see the passenger side front wheel dangling over the steps. Big pieces of drywall fill the stairs to the basement. If I’d been down there, there would be no way out until this car is removed!

The door between the kitchen and the front entryway has been knocked shut. I can only open it a little, the side wall is now blocking it. I try the phone and get a dial tone. Good. Now I need to find a number for the insurance agent. Oh, and I need to get our daughter’s phone number in case Denise doesn’t have her cell phone on. I get an index card off the dangling bulletin board, her number is on it.

I head back to the garage. The insurance cards that are in the cars must have a claim number on them. I disgustedly remove the bicycle from the hood of the Civic. I notice dings and scratches in the Camry. Stuff (like croquet mallet heads) must have flown all the way over here. I get the insurance card out of the glove-box of the Civic. It only has a number for our agent. Perhaps it will forward to a 24 hour claim number.

It does. I explain that a car has just driven into my house and the police tell me I need to get a contractor over before they will try to remove the car. After a few minutes of questions, they give me a list of three “preferred service provider” contractors. Fortunately, I keep pencils and paper in my workshop area in the garage. I call the first one on the list and leave a message with the answering service. Someone comes up to me and talks for a minute. I get ready to call the next contractor on the list when the phone rings. It is someone from the first contractor, he sounds like he was just awakened from a sound sleep. After I explain the situation, he says he will be out soon and bring a couple of guys to secure the house.

While I am on the phone, one of the policemen come up to me again. He tells me a couple of the neighbors had been outside when the car flew into the house. They saw a kid come out of the house from where the car was. They asked if he was the driver and he responded “no”. They asked if there had been anyone else in the car and he responded “no”. As soon as they turned to head for the house to see if anyone was in the car, the kid took off running across the street, went between the houses and into the golf course behind them. Someone had tried to chase him, but lost him in the darkness.

The police have run the plates of the car and have sent an officer to go pick up the owner after failing to make contact by phone. The owner has a teenage son, the police will bring them both back here to see if the neighbors can identify the kid as the driver.

Denise and Buffy

It is now about 1 am. That’s 2 am in Michigan. Should I call Denise now? She will probably be upset if I don’t. I try her cell phone, but it must not be on because I get her voice mail. I dial our daughter’s number, I hope it doesn’t wake up grandson. Our daughter answers, I tell her I need to talk to Denise. A moment later Denise answers, trying to sound awake, and I say, “There’s a car in our dining room.” “What??” “There’s a car in our dining room. The boys and I are OK, the driver must be OK, too, because he took off.”

I tell her the police are here. A fire truck is here, they shut off the gas because the car destroyed the gas dryer, the firemen had to rescue the boys from Josh’s bedroom window because the stairs to the upstairs are destroyed. I tell her I’ve called the insurance and a contractor they suggested, and they are going to come out to get the car out of the house and board up the walls. I need to go now, the police want to talk to me.

The owner of the car is here. The witnesses said that the owner’s son was not the driver. After further questioning, the son admits that while he was at a party a couple blocks from here, another kid had grabbed his car keys off the kitchen counter and took off in his car. Several kids from the party are here and the police are questioning them.

The neighbors from across the street (the Bartroms) come up and talk to me. They offer to take the boys in. They give me bottled water to drink. The phone rings. The local insurance claim office needs more information. I wonder where Buffy is. As I’m talking I go back in the house and look for her. I can’t find her anywhere. I’m back outside. I had left the door open so maybe she’s wandering around outside… she always wants to go outside.

I’m off the phone. Josh is there at the end of the driveway asking about Buffy. I go back in and call for her, but she doesn’t respond. I hope she wasn’t in the laundry room! I again look in the family room, but she isn’t behind the couch or either of the chairs. I go over to the afghan rack and move it aside to see if she is behind it. She is under the afghans, and as I move the rack aside, she moves with it to stay under the afghans. She hasn’t looked this scared since after the plane ride from Denver to Philadelphia!

I pick her up and take her out to Josh. I ask the Bartroms if it is OK for Josh to bring the cat into their house, and they say “sure”. The litter box is buried under several feet of rubble in the laundry room… what are we going to use for a litter box? I hope Buffy can “hold it” until I can go get another litter box and some kitty litter. I don’t say anything about this; but just watch Josh carry Buffy across the street and into their house, with Nathaniel and the Bartroms leading the way.

Other neighbors come up and talk to me. They almost all say, “If there’s anything we can do, just ask.” I appreciate their concern and thoughtfulness. I wonder how long it will be before the contractor can get here.

And the rest is a long story.

Photo Album

The photos in this set are courtesy of C.W.Troutner, Inc. (the contractor who restored the house).


Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.

Abraham Lincoln

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