‘It was just absolutely unbelievable’

Couple who were home when van was launched into house wheels first can’t believe no one was killed in bizarre Newburg crash

A 2009 MAZDA minivan that sped off Hawthorne Drive in Newburg and apparently launched off a retaining wall became lodged in a house about 15 feet off the ground at 3:15 a.m. Thursday, June 28. Later that morning, Lanser Garage and Towing of Belgium used a large tow truck to dislodge the minivan from the house (left). Photos courtesy of Lanser Garage and Towing
By 
BILL SCHANEN IV
Ozaukee Press staff

Ken Bienlein was sound asleep, so it took him a few seconds to figure out what had happened.

“I realized I was covered in debris,” Bienlein, whose upper body was also covered in motor oil and other auto fluids, said last week. “Then I noticed there was a car right there in our bedroom. Part of the car landed on the bed next to me, and there was glass and other debris everywhere.”

At about 3:15 a.m. Thursday, June 28, a 2009 minivan that was headed southwest on Hawthorne Drive in Newburg left the road and sped across Bienlein’s neighbor’s yard headed toward a 3 to 4-foot-tall fieldstone retaining wall between the two properties.

Instead of hitting the wall and stopping, the minivan grazed a tree and went over the wall, launching into Bienlein’s house and becoming embedded, wheels first, in the wall 15 feet off the ground.

The minivan obliterated Bienlein’s bedroom wall, snapped trusses and poked a hole in the roof.

Bienlein’s neighbor, who was just about to leave for work, saw the minivan leave the road and drive across his lawn.

“He said the driver suddenly accelerated and never laid off the throttle,” Bienlein said.

Luckily, Bienlein’s wife Annette had gotten out of bed to go to the bathroom just before the crash.

“I was trying to clear the debris from in front of the bedroom door to get out and she was trying to push her way in,” Bienlein said. “I don’t know how I managed to get out without cutting my feet on all the glass.

“If both of us had been in bed, one of us would be dead. The amount of debris everywhere was incredible.”

Bienlein said it will cost between $40,000 and $50,000 to repair his house. The work will take at least a couple of months to complete, he said.

Fortunately, the minivan cleared the foundation of the house and Lanser Garage and Towing of Belgium was able to lift the vehicle out of the house without causing further damage.

“I’ve been doing this for 50 years and I’ve seen a lot of cars in buildings, but never one with all four tires literally stuck into a house,” Randy Ingelse, owner of the company, said. “When the sheriff’s department called, they said, ‘OK, we’re going to do our best to explain this to you,’ but this was one of those things that you’re not going to believe until you see it.”

Ingelse and his crew were able to secure  chains around the minivan and used one of their large tow trucks to dislodge the vehicle and swing it clear of the house.

“There wasn’t a straight piece of metal on the minivan,” Ingelse said.

Authorities who were called to the scene found the driver of the minivan, Alva P. Richards, behind the wheel. He appeared unconscious at first, but then lifted his head and began moving around the vehicle, according to an Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Office report.

Eventually Richards climbed out a window of the minivan and fell 15 feet to the ground.

Authorities were concerned that there were other people in the minivan, and when they asked Richards if he was the only one in the vehicle, he said, “Should be,” according to the report, which described him as being in “an altered state of mind.”

Richards, who later told authorities he believes he suffered a seizure while driving to work, tested negative for alcohol at the scene. When a deputy asked him if he uses illegal drugs, Richards said he smokes marijuana every day, according to the report.

Authorities found 0.6 grams of marijuana and a grinder in the minivan, according to a criminal complaint filed in Ozaukee County Circuit Court on June 28.

Richards is charged with second-degree recklessly endangering safety and second-offense possession of marijuana, both felonies.

Richards was taken to a hospital and later told authorities that he suffers from a seizure disorder. He said the last seizure he suffered was on May 10, according to the criminal complaint.

Richards said he self medicates by taking cannabidiol, or CBD, gummies he orders from Florida, which he insisted do not contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), according to the sheriff’s department report.

Richards also told authorities he smoked a bowl of marijuana at 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 27, according to the report.

He denied being under the influence of marijuana at the time of the crash and said he believes the accident occurred when he suffered a seizure, the report states.

The day after the crash, Richards, with his children in tow, went to the crash scene to talk with the Bienleins.

“He was very apologetic,” Mrs. Bienlein said. “He was very scared he had hurt someone.

“I accepted his apology and told him to lead a good life.”    

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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