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Hit-and-run driver smacks power box, knocks out electricity in Wadena

Photo by Steve Schulz Weldon Crider and Evan Lachowitzer, two Wadena Light and Water employees, inspect a $20,000 power box that was hit and dislodged by a hit-and-run driver Friday morning, knocking out power briefly to the entire city.

A car plowed into a 12,470 volt electrical box next to an electrical substation in Wadena early Friday morning, June 4, knocking power out briefly for the entire city and for two hours to about 250 customers.

The driver, who Wadena Electric and Water employees described as lucky to be alive, then drove away.

The box had three large copper wires about the size of a baseball bat around that arced, burning through the copper inside.

"The arc that comes out of that -- it's hotter than the sun," said Weldon Crider, an Electric and Water employee on the scene Friday morning.

There were no skid marks at the scene. The vehicle jumped a curb just after midnight Friday morning, hit the $20,000 box and dislodged it, throwing its protective cover about 10 feet away.

"This thing weighs over 3,000 pounds," another Electric and Water employee, Evan Lachowitzer, said.

"They must have been sailing," Crider said. "There had to be some speed involved.

The speed with which the hit-and-run driver hit the box may have saved his or her life, said Rich Schwartz of the Electric and Water Department. If the driver was going slower, the vehicle may have hung up on the wires, either electrocuting the occupant(s) or burning the car.

There was likely a very bright flash, the employees said.

"I'd have liked to have been here just to see the ball of fire," Crider remarked. "I bet it lit up the whole town."

Wadena firefighters and electrical workers worked around the fire and electrical arcing despite darkness and heavy rain. An automatic fault caused a "blink" in the entire Wadena service area, knocking out power for just a few seconds. It took about two hours before parts of the northwest side of the city, from Holiday to Wadena-Deer Creek High School, had power restored.

Wadena police recovered parts of a vehicle at the scene that had serial numbers on it, and identified it as a 1993 or 1994 Dodge Intrepid. Later Friday morning, Wadena police were able to find the suspect vehicle; however, no arrests had been announced as of press time.