Eckert: Alleged drunken driver to pay for Belleville fountain crash

News-DemocratMay 6, 2014 

Petroff Towing brought their huge boom arm tow truck to the Veteran's Memorial Fountain in downtown Belleville's Public Square early Saturday morning after a car hit the fountain and went airborne, landing into the water a little before 4 a.m.

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— A Hazelwood, Missouri, man faces drunken driving charges, and cleanup and repair fees from Belleville, after crashing into the Veteran's Memorial Fountain in April.

Christopher J. Willingham, 28, was cited for misdemeanor driving under the influence of alcohol and failure to reduce speed.

The repair work will be finished before Art on the Square. The annual art show is May 16-18. Traffic will not be affected during the repairs.

Willingham drove a Toyota Camry into the northern part of the fountain about 4 a.m. April 19, according to Belleville police.

Willingham was taken to St. Elizabeth's Hospital for treatment of non-life threatening injuries before police took him into custody. Willingham declined to comment Tuesday.

Mayor Mark Eckert said the city plans to bill Willingham for the materials and manpower needed to fix the fountain.

"Our goal is to recoup everything," Eckert said Tuesday.

Willingham also is responsible for the cost of about 52,000 gallons of water needed to fill the fountain twice, according to Ken Vaughn, director of the city's Maintenance Department.

An estimate of the water bill was not immediately available. For context, the Environmental Protection Agency says the average person uses about 100 gallons of water a day.

Workers drained and cleaned the fountain on the day of the crash to check for additional damage, Vaughn said.

Immediate cleanup also was necessary to remove motor oil, anti-freeze and other chemicals from the car to avoid further damage to the fountain, Vaughn said.

Two Maintenance Department workers worked overtime for about six hours the day of the crash to clean the fountain, Vaughn said.

City workers then came up with a temporary fix for a cracked spray nozzle in order to fill the fountain in time for Easter, which was the day after the crash.

The city turned on the fountain about a week before Easter when the Exchange Club erected crosses around the fountain for the holiday.

The city will have to drain and fill the fountain next week, the second time since the crash, to make permanent repairs.

The city's Street Department will fix the concrete outer ring of the fountain and the Parks Department will paint the damaged area.

The Maintenance Department will replace the broken spray nozzle, which was cracked at the base where it attaches to the main water distribution line, Vaughn said.

New parts and cleaning materials will amount to about $150, Vaughn said.

Vaughn said it was miraculous that the crash only damaged one of about 20 spray nozzles that make up the fountain.

"We were lucky," Eckert said. "He missed all that -- the landscaping, the flagpoles, the lights and crosses."

Willingham also is responsible for the use of a rotator wrecker, or boom arm tow truck, needed to lift the vehicle out of the fountain.

The city called Petroff Towing for this special vehicle because towing the car out in a typical fashion would have damaged the fountain even more.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 618-239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BNDJLee.

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