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Drunken crash into Billings library to cost city $100K or more

Driver was uninsured
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Posted at 5:57 PM, May 10, 2023

BILLINGS — A 28-year-old drunken driver with no insurance allegedly drove his van up a curb, between two beams, and into the north entrance of the Billings Public Library Tuesday night. And now it's up to the city to cover the estimated $100,000 to $150,000 to fix the damage.

“You wouldn’t expect somebody to be able to hit a building, especially on a main road like this,” said Billings resident Kristen Stokes while visiting the library Wednesday morning.

Restoration work is now underway to fix the shattered doors but somehow the suspected drunken driver backed away and took off.

“Vehicle stopped but then the driver tried to flee on foot. Officers caught him, he was injured from the crash so he had to seek medical attention,” said Billings Police Lt. Matt Lennick.

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That van is still sitting outside a home in the 200 block of Avenue D. The suspect was treated for his injuries and then processed for suspected DUI but that’s just the start of his problems.

“And that at this time, been charged with no insurance and I think all the criminal stuff is still pending,” Lennick said.

No insurance means the mess is now the city’s responsibility.

“The city does have some reserves for incidents like this just in case, but the fact is that our insurance deductible is high enough that we just think it won’t reach that point, so it will come at full cost to the city," said Billings Public Information Officer Victoria Hill.

This incident is highlighting a bigger Billings problem.

“Uninsured drivers is a big problem. It’s pretty common for us to come across individuals that don’t have insurance whether it’s on a regular traffic stop or involved in a crash,” Lennick said.

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Lennick said drivers don’t insure for a variety of reasons. Some can’t because of their driving record. and others don’t want to pay for expensive insurance or can’t afford it.

"It’s a mandatory cite for us. If we come across and you don’t have insurance, the guys don’t have discretion on it, they have to issue a citation,” said Lennick.

Those insurance fines grow with each citation, then there are points on a driver’s license, which can lead to a suspension. Lennick said uninsured drivers get caught in a cycle, which means his officers often see the same faces.

“Then if you don’t have a driver’s license, can you get to work, can you afford to buy insurance? It’s a cycle,” Lennick said.

Thankfully, no one but the driver was injured during the incident, and it was business as usual Wednesday at the library. But patrons like Stokes feel the library’s loss.

“For somebody to hit it and destroy something that’s very important to a lot of people, it’s quite sad,” said Stokes.