BEAVER DAM -- Police said a driver blew through stop signs while fleeing from officers late Wednesday night, Aug. 21 in Beaver Dam. The driver struck the Beaver Dam Middle School, leaving extensive damage that shocked neighbors.
Some activities at the school were canceled, but the superintendent remained hopeful Thursday, Aug. 22 the start of the school year would not be interrupted.
The Beaver Dam United School District on Thursday morning posted that the open house scheduled for Thursday night was postponed " due to unforeseen circumstances."
"I could hear it getting closer, and closer, and closer -- then bam! said Stephanie Wiedenhoeft, neighbor. "It was just this huge like, explosion."
Wiedenhoeft looked out her window just before midnight to see the impact. Viewer photos and video showed the fireball that followed.
"It was insane," said Wiedenhoeft. "I've never seen anything like it before."
The school district estimated $100,000 in damage. Wiedenhoeft watched as the driver was surrounded by officers, and ultimately pulled from the debris.
The suspected driver, Roy Cortez, 22, appeared in Dodge County court via video Thursday -- his arm in a sling after investigators said he suffered a four-inch cut above his elbow from the crash.
Prosecutors said Cortez was likely intoxicated during a domestic disturbance a few blocks away from the school. According to prosecutors, Cortez took off in a white Dodge Dart, fleeing from officers at 80 to 90 miles per hour.
Beaver Dam police said he crashed into the school, created a hole 30 feet wide and seven feet tall. The impact knocked out power to the building, caused the school's cooling system to leak, and sparked two fires.
"There's going to be a nasty scar there for a while," said Wiedenhoeft.
Prosecutors said additional charges were possible against Cortez. Cash bond was set at $10,000. A preliminary hearing was set for Aug. 29.
Cortez faces one count of operator flee/elude officer -- bodily harm or property damage.
Officials with the Beaver Dam Unified School District issued this statement:
The purpose of this press release is to provide our community stakeholders with information regarding a car that crashed into the north side of Beaver Dam Middle School last night.
At approximately 11:40pm on Wednesday, August 21, 2019, a vehicle that was reported to have been traveling southbound on Grove Street struck the Beaver Dam Middle School. The vehicle was driven by an adult male that may have been attempting to evade police.
The building has sustained notable damage as a result of the crash. Prior to making contact with the exterior wall of the building, the vehicle struck an electrical transformer that feeds power to a large portion of the building. In addition to the damage caused by the impact of the crash, the incident also resulted in a fire that caused additional damage. There is water damage in some areas as a result of extinguishing the fire and there may be some smoke damage we will have to navigate.
District staff have been on scene and supporting the response to the situation through the night and morning. Alliant Energy is working to replace the transformer and restore the building to full power as soon as reasonably possible. A specialized mitigation and remediation has been and will continue to be on site working to assist with clean-up and containment. Additional contractors and partners will be brought in today and tomorrow to help further assess the situation and support a comprehensive solution.
Although we do not have a full and complete picture of the work that will need to be done, we can easonably estimate that the damage associated with this incident is well over $100,000.
Events scheduled at the middle school for today have been either moved, rescheduled, or postponed. Until we have full power and appropriately filter and clean the air in order to assure a safe environment for students and staff, the middle school will remain closed.
We are optimistic that we will be able to work through this dynamic challenge over the next few days so we are business as usual by Monday, August 26, 2019.
Superintendent DiStefano states, “The district continues to be very appreciative of the response and care from our emergency responders. Although this whole situation is very unfortunate, in true Beaver Dam fashion, we will come together and put the necessary solutions in place so we can be sure our staff and students have a positive start to the school year.”