Police and other emergency personnel swarmed the area around St. Mary School in Riverside last Friday afternoon after a 69-year-old Lyons woman drove her Ford pickup truck into the building just before dismissal time.
The incident happened at 2:10 p.m., just 20 minutes before the final bell sounded for the day. According to police, Elizabeth Davis, who had come to pick up her granddaughter from school, apparently mistakenly hit the accelerator of her truck, plowed over a small tree and crashed into the east wall of the building, just missing a set of double doors to a lobby that connects the school to the gym.
A part of the wall did collapse into an office for the gym teacher, but no one was in the room at the time of the crash, according to St. Mary Principal Nancy Taylor.
No children or staff were in the vicinity of the doorway at the time of the accident, which reportedly caused fairly extensive damage to the wall and set off the fire alarm. Students were evacuated from the building very quickly, according to Riverside Assistant Police Chief Thomas Weitzel, who responded to the scene.
“They had the kids lined up; it was like a military operation,” Weitzel said. “They did a great job; it was well-organized.”
Paramedics found Davis, who was cited for failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident, still in her vehicle when they arrived. She was transported to MacNeal Hospital in Berwyn with minor injuries and released.
Weitzel said they could find no eyewitnesses to the incident.
“If it had happened just 10 feet over, it would have gone right into the building,” Weitzel said. “If it had been at dismissal, there would definitely have been student and staff injuries.”
According to Taylor, three grades dismiss through the east exit of the school. As parents arrived at school to pick up their children, they were greeted by emergency vehicles and yellow crime scene tape cordoning off the building.
“There was a lot of panic on their faces,” Taylor said of the parents.
Riverside Building Department personnel inspected the building and found it to have suffered some structural damage. The area was quickly boarded up and remained that way into Monday morning when students arrived back at school.
Taylor said that representatives of the Archdiocese of Chicago, through which the building is insured, were on site Monday to evaluate the extent of the damage. She said no monetary figure had been released concerning the physical toll on the school building.
She also had not yet been told of a time frame for repairs.
“The diocese said that as soon as they know, they’ll work to get it fixed,” Taylor said.