Residents left to clean up path left by off-roading driver
A Bonner Springs resident took what one neighbor described as a “Dukes of Hazzard” ride through backyards owned by Bonner Springs city officials Wednesday morning, Aug. 5.
Between the hours of 2 a.m. and 3 a.m., Philip Wilbert, who had been driving a white Ford Econoline van west on Morse, drove through the stop sign at 138th and Morse and into five neighboring backyards of residents that included Mayor Clausie Smith and city manager John “Jack” Helin.
Wilbert first drove straight into the backyard owned by residents Charles and Lisa Bruce and then into the neighboring backyard of Dan and Ruth Carter, doing almost no damage to their yards. He then took a soft left into the Smith backyard where, after driving over the bulk of their landscaping, Wilbert hit a tree in the yard hard enough to catapult the van over a short stone wall and into another large cedar tree on the edge of the Smith property. The force of the hit pushed the tree about 50 yards away from where it had originally stood and into the backyard of neighbor Winnie Vitt.
But the van didn’t stop there. Wheels flattened at this point down to the rim, it rolled through Vitt’s yard, finally landing in a putting green in the backyard of the Helins, who live just next door to Vitt.
Despite the nature of the accident, police say Wilbert only suffered minor injuries.
Bonner Springs Police Lt. Rick Schubert said Wilbert, who left the scene of the accident, contacted the Bonner Springs Police Department the next afternoon and admitted to what had happened.
“Well I’m just sick,” Jean Smith said while standing in what was left of her landscaping work the following Thursday afternoon. She pointed out a side-view mirror in her yard still left by the van, noting that it was just one of many souvenirs the van had left behind as it traveled through.
Several of the neighbors say they heard a commotion, and Vitt said she looked out the window after she heard what sounded to her like a car horn. She said she noticed the driver getting in and out of the van and trying to restart the van.
Former state representative and Bonner Springs mayor Al Ramirez, who lives next door to the Helins, called the police. A light sleeper, he said he often gets up at night and happened to notice the van as he was looking out his window.
Ramirez’s call came in at 3:22 a.m. Police arrived on scene at 3:29 a.m.
Though still unclear as to what might have caused Wilbert to drive off the road, John Helin speculated that Wilbert may have been driving too fast and drove through the stop sign, unable to stop his car at the point at which he hit the first yard. Citations issued by the police to Wilbert, which include those for speeding and failing to stop at a stop sign, suggest that this may have been the case.
Other citations issued are those for leaving the scene of an accident, inattentive driving and failing to wear a seatbelt. No arrests have been made and Schubert said there was nothing in the investigation to indicate that alcohol may have been involved.
Dan Carter, who had described the incident as something out of “Dukes of Hazzard,” aptly categorized the damage to the Smith backyard, which included the demolishment of flowers, shrubs and several trees.
“It really looked kind of like a tornado path,” he said, noting how unfortunate the situation was considering the time and effort his neighbors had always put into their yard. “That’s their hobby and that’s their passion.”
Jean Smith said it was too early to tell what the amount of damages to her property will be.
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