Car goes airborne, 1000s lose power

KNOX — Residents in Knox, North Judson, Monterey, Culver, parts of Argos and Plymouth were without power late Monday night for approximately 2-1⁄2 hours following an accident that occurred just after 9 p.m. which severed an electric pole located at the corner of Pearl Street and Culver Road in Knox.
Knox City Police Chief Clint Norem said Betty S. Windbigler, 63, of 0935 S. 250 E. Knox, struck the pole at high speed due to what they believe was a medical emergency. She was later airlifted from Starke Memorial Hospital to South Bend, where she was treated for extensive injuries she sustained in the crash, including the loss of an arm.
“A witness saw her (Windbigler) come across (U.S.) 35 — she didn’t even slow down. She hit the curb at Pearl (Street) and was airborne before striking the pole. At this point, we believe she suffered a stroke or possibly a seizure,” Chief Norem said.
Residents poured out of their homes, lining both sides of the street, to see what had caused so much commotion in an otherwise peaceful neighborhood. Rumor and speculation were running rampant throughout the crowd.
One girl, Virginia, approximately 10-years-old, was outside in her footie pajamas. Virginia gave a passionate account of the incident she said she witnessed.
“I saw everything. The car hit that pole and then stopped over there,” she said pointing to where the crumpled automobile was being loaded on the wrecker. “I think it was a guy who was drunk because there’s a beer bottle in my yard,” she said.
Reports like this kept pouring in, with alleged witnesses combining partial details of the accident with another incident that evolved shortly after the crash that required all available police personnel to leave the scene to pursue a man who was reported as being armed and dangerous.
“All officers who responded to the accident were pulled off for a gunman who was later captured and identified as David Griffith, 44, of Knox,” Chief Norem said.
While most of the city was paralyzed by darkness, residents on the east side of town were also leaving their homes to see why the sirens were now blaring through their neighborhood.
Downtown gas stations that normally stay open all night were closed due to the blackout.
The only sign of life, besides the excess number of police and emergency personnel, that could be found in the northern part of the city was one lone tavern on Main Street. Drivers could hear the music blaring from O’s Tap as soon as they rounded the corner at Washington and Main. The lights were out, but that didn’t end the partying at this downtown bar.
Norem said a pole being hit doesn’t usually cause such a wide-spread power outage. According to Norem, this particular line bounced around so badly it caused a ripple effect as the current shot through the wire and knocked out several transformers on other poles.
“I heard the power was out as far away as Culver. I know Bass Lake was also out because I spoke to one of the residents who lives there,” Norem said.
Businesses south of Culver Road and the accident scene remarkably had power: McDonald’s, Walgreens, Pizza Hut and Five Star appeared to be one tiny island of light in an otherwise sea of darkness.
Larry Graham, a NIPSCO spokesperson, said 2,700 customers were affected by the damaged pole.
“That was a transmission line, which is a high voltage line that supplied power to a substation. When you lose a transmission line, you lose all power heading to the substation,” he said.
Graham said the substation is fed by the transmission line, but then spiders out, so to speak, to power homes in surrounding areas.
“You have a high-voltage line going into the substation at 65,000 volts. The voltage is reduced to 12,000 volts and goes back out to feed customers in surrounding communities. There were four circuits that came out of that substation that lost power as a result of that accident,” he said.
All but 30 customers had their power restored by 11:30 p.m. due to a built in failsafe that is used for such circumstances.
“There’s usually a backup feed coming into a substation just for a situation like this. So we were able to switch all the customers, except for the 30, to that other feed and restore their power,” Graham said.
Knox City Police and Knox-Center Township Fire Department responded to the scene.