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Man crashes SUV into 700 Main Center, no one injured

By LESLIE WILBER
Oct. 8, 2009 at 5:08 a.m.

Firefighters extinguish a small fire under the hood of Paul Matula's Mercury Mountaineer. Matula crashed into the corner of 700 Main Thursday  while trying to pay a utility bill. Everyone was evacuated from the building as a precautionary measure.

A vehicle crash and fire briefly stalled work at the city's 700 Main Street on Thursday morning.

Paul Matula was trying to pay his utilities bill at the drive-up window at 9 a.m. when he crashed into the corner of the building.

"It seemed it accelerated when it should have braked," the 62-year-old St. Joseph High School employee said.

Inside, utilities billing clerk Stefanie Garcia saw the car speeding toward her.

"He stopped, and of a sudden he was coming toward the building," Garcia said. "I'm glad he didn't come through the wall."

The building seemed to be mostly undamaged. Officer Herschel Buck said a brick was knocked out of the corner.

No one was injured in the wreck or fire, Battalion Chief Tracy Fox said, but Matula and Garcia both said they were shaken up.

Although the SUV was flaming, Matula got out on his own after the wreck, said Rachel Benitez, another clerk in utilities billing. She heard the crash, saw co-workers running and called 911.

Employees in her department brought Matula inside to sit down while they waited for paramedics.

The building was briefly evacuated as a precaution, Fox said, but everyone except workers in the utilities billing office were allowed back inside within minutes.

The SUV did not have any obvious defects that would cause it to accelerate unexpectedly, Buck said. It's possible Matula simply hit the wrong pedal, which Buck said sometimes happens.

Matula was not ticketed because the crash happened on private property, not a roadway, Buck said.

"This was a big dose of humility," Matula said.

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