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Van strikes apartment building, displacing six families

South Boston News
A 2001 Ford van (red) opened a gaping hole in the side of Willow Oaks Apartments Saturday afternoon. / August 10, 2014
Residents of Willow Oaks Apartments were briefly evacuated late Saturday afternoon after a vehicle struck a side wall of one unit, raising concerns about the building’s structural integrity.

A Crystal Hill man, James Howard Burch, has been charged with reckless driving after the 2001 Ford van he was operating rammed into the side of apartment 320B. He was charged by South Boston Police Officer A. Davis. The accident took place around 5:13 p.m.

A woman inside her apartment bedroom was injured in the collision and was transported to Halifax Regional Hospital for treatment. Neighbors said she may have suffered broken bones in the mishap.

The apartments are located on Poplar Creek Street in South Boston, a block off Wilborn Avenue.

Mattie Breedlove, a babysitter for the family of the apartment next door, said that when she heard the collision, she first thought it was kids outside causing noise at the complex.

“The next thing I know, they’re evacuating the building,” she said. Breedlove said she got the order to leave from a firefighter and departed the premises with the young children in her care.

“They shut off the electricity,” she said — a precaution while emergency personnel checked over the building. She and the family were allowed to return about an hour later, said Breedlove.

About 30 people were temporarily displaced from their living quarters in the immediate aftermath of the wreck, according to Beverly Smith with Willow Oaks management. As of Sunday, nearly 20 people remained out of their apartments.

An entire unit of the Willow Oaks complex continues to be shuttered due to concerns about the structural integrity of the building. The vehicle opened a gap in a load-bearing wall, and South Boston firefighters deemed the building unsafe until further inspections can be conducted. The fire department estimated damages at $75,000 to $100,000.

Electricity to the affected unit remains out.

Ginger Weaver, Red Cross disaster services specialist, said the Red Cross is assisting six families — a total of eight adults and 10 children — with emergency shelter and other immediate needs until they are allowed to return to their apartments.

The next step, she said, is a complete building inspection Monday. “At that time, we will collaborate with other local agencies as we assist these families until they are able to return to normal as before the incident,” said Weaver.

Ms. Breedlove and another resident of the complex who lives near the crash scene said they understood that the driver of the Ford van, James Howard Burch, may have blacked out behind the wheel just before the vehicle careened into the building. Both said Burch may suffer from a drop in blood sugar, which led to the loss in consciousness.

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