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Drunk driver crashes through backyard workshop; third vehicle-building collision in Grand Forks in 3 days

Tim McLennon surveys damage to his work shop with his wife, Jody, and daughter, MacKenzie, in their backyard of their Sunset Drive home after a drunk driver crashed into the structure and a power pole early Wednesday. Herald photo by Eric Hylden. A sport utility vehicle with a drunk driver at the wheel struck a power pole and plowed through a workshop in the backyard of a Grand Forks home early Wednesday morning, making it the third day in a row that vehicles have crashed into buildings in the city.

Timothy McLennon and his family were asleep in their house on Sunset Drive when an explosion-like noise woke them shortly after 1 a.m. McLennon figured a transformer had blown because their electricity went out shortly afterward.

But when McLennon walked out into his backyard, he found a heap of debris.

"Total destruction," he said. "It looked like a bomb went off."

With tire tracks running across the floor of his 12-by-20-foot workshop, it was clear a vehicle had blasted through it, damaging two walls and eliminating a third. Though, McLennon said, by the time he went outside, the driver of the vehicle had backed up and driven off.

Lt. Grant Schiller said police later found the vehicle, a white and red 1989 GMC Jimmy, and the driver, Patty Ann Buckholtz, at her house a couple blocks away. Buckholtz's blood-alcohol level was .13, Schiller said. The limit to drive in North Dakota is .08.

McLennon said Buckholtz must have been going east on 17th Avenue before she crashed into his backyard just across from Holy Family Church. The SUV veered off the road, struck the utility pole, knocked down McLennon's fence and went through his workshop, Schiller said. Debris from the crash put a hole in McLennon's garage, which sits about 20 feet from the workshop. Schiller said the damage to McLennon's property was priced at $12,000.

McLennon, 37, said his workshop is a total loss.

"It'll have to be taken down completely," he said. "My dartboard is the only thing holding it up right now."

He guesses Buckholtz was driving with some speed considering the damage the SUV did, particularly to his workbench.

"There's just nothing left of that," he said. "I mean, it was a solid workbench."

What compounds the ordeal for McLennon and his family is that their house is on the market. "It's kind of hard to sell a house when the workshop is gone," said McLennon's wife, Jody. "I guess we're going to have to lower the price of the house."

She said the crash, that occurred about 30 feet from her house, left her on edge. "I was pretty hysterical. I'm not going to lie -- I was shaking."

But Wednesday afternoon, she pointed out at least one silver lining: "We were just happy to hear she (Buckholtz) had insurance."

Buckholtz, 48, pleaded guilty in municipal court Wednesday to charges of drunk driving, leaving the scene of an accident and failing to report an accident. She was fined $652 and must receive a chemical dependency evaluation to avoid spending six days in jail.

The utility pole was repaired Wednesday, and power was restored to McLennon and others on his block. Schiller said the cost of the damage to the utility pole was estimated at $2,000.

In other vehicle vs. building crashes this week:

- A car backed into a storefront at 2100 S. Columbia Road on Tuesday, breaking windows and dislodging bricks. The driver and passenger were not injured.

- On Monday, a woman told police her foot slipped from the brake to the gas pedal as she was pulling into a parking spot, causing her car to smash the front of a butcher shop at 1907 South Washington Street. The woman was treated at Altru Hospital and released the same day.