ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — A Little Canada, Minn. man faces criminal charges after crashing his minivan into a St. Paul bar early Friday morning and leaving five patrons injured.
Authorities said the accident was reported just before midnight, when a person called 911 after a gold minivan was heading north on Highway 61 near Interstate 494 in Newport, weaving in and out of traffic.
A Minnesota State Patrol trooper located the van at Interstate 94 and tried to pull the van over near the 6th Street exit. The driver of the van did not stop, took the ramp and drove another block before crashing into the Bulldog Restaurant and Bar on the 200 block of East 6th Street.
Cara Martner was sitting just inches from where that minivan came to a rest.
“It’s just one of those things you see on, like, cop shows or whatever, that the driver mauls through a building, and your think, ‘Wow, I wonder what it’d be like to be in the building,” Martner said. “I just saw headlights coming and it was like that feeling of something is not right about that.”
The van stopped in the window frame after hitting a support beam to the building. Witnesses said the front van was wrapped around the pole like a horseshoe.
“If that pole hadn’t been there, the [van] would have just kept moving through and probably would’ve also injured a bunch of people in the bar,” she said.
Her friend Erin Dodd was sitting next to the window.
“I didn’t see it happen, I couldn’t, it happened way too fast. I didn’t even know what was happening,” Dodd said. “And then I just saw blood like dripping from my head, so I started feeling super light headed and dizzy.”
In the midst of the chaos, she realized the shattered glass had cut her head. Dodd’s leg was also badly hurt. Customers, who the women say were wearing hospital scrubs, came to their aid until first responders arrived.
“I don’t know what to make of this situation other than, just like, we got extremely lucky,” Martner said. “Everyone’s doing OK. I think we’re all just, like, pretty much shocked that happened.”
Three of the five people at the table were taken to the hospital. Their injuries range from scrapes and cuts to staples and stiches. All were allowed to go home early Friday morning.
Police said that the driver, 31-year-old Matthew Damman, was found slumped over in the van. He smelled of alcohol and appeared groggy.
When asked why he fled, he responded, “My sugar is ****ed up.” Paramedics determined that his blood sugar was well-below normal levels. His blood alcohol level was measured at 0.022.
He told officers he had smoked marijuana a number of hours earlier. Officers found a glass pipe and a small amount of marijuana inside the minivan. He was eventually taken to Regions Hospital.
State records indicate Damman has two prior DWI convictions in Ramsey County. He has been charged with one count of fleeing a police officer and five counts of criminal vehicular operation.
He is scheduled to appear in court on Monday afternoon.