Hannah’s Playground, an all-inclusive play area in Breese, is temporarily closed after someone drove through the fence Wednesday, running a vehicle up the slide and hitting the playground platform before sliding back down and driving away.
Michael Berndsen, whose daughter Hannah inspired the playground, said he doesn’t yet know the extent of the damage, but the slide, which was totaled in the crash, cost at least $15,000. The person responsible drove away but was pulled over by police a short distance away, Berndsen said.
Breese police said they are investigating the incident and will have more details Thursday.
The playground, which opened in 2015 at Breese Northside Park, is named after Berndsen’s daughter, who died in 2012.
Hannah had cerebral palsy and developmental delays, and she spent much of her childhood using a wheelchair. She wanted to play on playgrounds and ride swings, but she was often unable to do so safely.
The play area features equipment that is accessible for people with disabilities, including low ramps, adaptive seats in swings and a spongy surface that allows people who use wheelchairs, crutches or walkers to access the equipment. The playground as a whole cost $300,000 to build.
Berndsen said the playground had been full of children and parents just an hour before, but it had completely emptied by the time the car came through the fence at about 4:15 p.m. Wednesday.
“The family and kids’ safety is our utmost concern, obviously,” Berndsen said. “We feel that Hannah was really looking out for all those kiddos out there.”
A neighbor who witnessed the crash said the car crossed the center line of North Walnut street, hit and bounced off of a parked car, went through the fencing and ran up the slide. The neighbor said the driver got out of the car before getting back in and driving away. Breese police pulled him over half a block down the street, Berndsen said.
The slide is totaled, Berndsen said, and pieces connecting it to the rest of the structure snapped clean off on the side and bottom. The main support pole was also damaged, and the top platform is bowed in, which means the whole section may have to be replaced.
Berndsen said the slide was one of the most expensive pieces of equipment on the playground, and the specialized tile to which it was connected will also have to be replaced. Three sections of fencing were also torn down.
Berndsen, who shared the incident on his Facebook page, has already received messages from people wanting to donate to aid in the playground’s repair.
“It’s nice to see that support without having to ask. We live in a great community,” he said.
He added the park officially belongs to the city of Breese, so they will be involved in deciding how and when the repairs take place.
Berndsen said the company that built the playground is coming Thursday to survey the damage and find out if parts of the playground can open again soon.
“We’re just thankful no one’s hurt, and we’re making sure it gets fixed and making it even better than it was before,” Berndsen said.