About 250 people at a concert in Wausau were lucky that they were safely inside the theater when an SUV crashed through an outside wall into the lobby.
It was 15 minutes into the jazz concert at University of Wisconsin-Marathon County’s Center for Civic Engagement, a two-year old building on busy Stewart Avenue. Theater manager Kris Berge was in the audio booth. Unknown to him, the driver of an SUV just outside the theater had just pushed down on the accelerator instead of the brake.
“Initially I thought it was a large clap of thunder, until I saw the drywall start moving, and then the bumper down by my feet,” said Berge.
The vehicle missed Berge by inches, leaving audio and video equipment on the floor, as well as broken glass, smashed tables, and twisted metal in the hallway outside.
“We got out of that room pretty fast, looked in the lobby, saw the vehicle,” said Berge. “The guy was walking out. (He) seemed okay, stunned.”
On stage, music professor Tim Buchholz was directing the Combined High School Honors Choir when the crash occurred. Amazingly, the concert continued.
“We had our high school students up there, swingin’ it, and all of a sudden in the middle of our scat section we heard a pretty large noise in the back of the room,” said Buchholz. “But to the musicians’ credit, (they) didn’t drop a beat – kept going.”
Buchholz finished the concert. He and the 250 people in the audience had been in the lobby just 15 minutes earlier, and would have been directly in the path on the vehicle
“We didn’t know at the time what had happened, if it was some kind of a crash outside the building,” said Buchholz. “That’s not where your mind goes at first – that someone had crashed into the building.”
The driver was cited for inattentive driving and failure to wear a seatbelt. There is no estimate on how much it will cost to repair the damage.