Last Thursday morning I was listening to KLIN radio. Jack Mitchell and Dave Miller, the morning show hosts, were yucking it up over this accident, in which a disoriented driver turned a pizza restaurant into a drive through--even placing his order from the front seat after the crash.
Mr. Mitchell has a fascination with car/building crashes, and every time one of these hits the news, he launches into a monologue claiming that Lincoln drivers smash into buildings more than anywhere else on earth. Thursday, he announced that he had started a Google Docs spreadsheet of these recent crashes, and he invited listeners to edit his work. In a rather short time, several additions were contributed, as people recollected crashes from the past, and in some cases even found links to related news stories.
I was pretty impressed at Jack's concept of a crowd-sourced spreadsheet, but I also knew that it would be woefully incomplete, since it is based on what contributors recall, and what a web search of news items returns. A tiny percentage of these crashes would ever make the paper or the newscast. I, on the other hand, have millions of records of police dispatches, and anyone who knows me or reads the Director's Desk for any length of time realizes that I am a database geek. This was a challenge!
So while the coffee was brewing, I searched the past five years' crashes. There is no data field that identifies car/building crashes, however, as these are included in the broader category of fixed object collisions. My work around was to look at the "remarks" field in the traffic crash dispatch records. This is the field containing the free-form shorthand comments keystroked by dispatchers at the time a call is received. I searched for three keywords: "house," "garage," and "building."
The search returned about 450 candidates, and I scanned through the table to identify and remove the false positives: cases that weren't really car building accidents, but in which the remarks field contained one of the keywords. The net result was 196. This is probably not entirely accurate, as my ten-minute search and scan likely missed a few false positives, and there would also be a few false negatives: actual car/building crashes in which none of those keywords appeared in the dispatch record.
Nonetheless, I think we can safely conclude that there have been around a couple hundred motor vehicle vs. building crashes that have come to the attention of the police in the past five years. The big surprise, Jack, is that you've got way more of these than you ever dreamed in your wildest imagination. The bad news is that your theory that Lincoln driver's smack brick more than anywhere else is completely without any basis. Since Lincoln has a relatively low accident rate, it is likely that the subset of car v. building crashes is also low. No one has comparative data on such things, and there is no way to know how many buildings get creamed in Lubbock, Louisville, Laredo, or Lexington--only in Lincoln.
My favorite car building crash occurred sometime in the late 1970's or early 80's, when a reckless driver left the roadway and collided with the Fotomat in the parking lot of the Safeway at 23rd and O Street--now an Office Max store. I wasn't a witness, but legend has it that the building virtually exploded. Luckily, it was after hours and unoccupied. If you are under the age of 40, you'll probably need to find someone a little older to explain what a Fotomat was.