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Driver recounts narrow escape after canopy collapses at Duluth gas station

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Anthony Isham of Proctor pulled into the ICO gas station at Sixth Avenue East and Sixth Street in Duluth’s Central Hillside neighborhood at about 12:40 p.m. Sunday and was talking to a friend via cell phone when he noticed the pillar next to his Chevy Tahoe starting to lean in his direction.

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“I seen it coming down. I had time to tilt my seat back. Now I wish I had put it in reverse,” he said.

The driver’s side of the vehicle was crushed when the fueling station’s canopy tipped over Sunday. Isham’s most vivid memory is of the sound of breaking glass as he leaned back in his seat. He sustained minor cuts to his hands but suffered no other apparent injuries.

Isham was able to scramble out of a passenger-side door of his vehicle after the collapsed canopy came to rest.

“I guess I’m lucky to be alive,” said the 22-year-old, noting that he never previously had such a close call.

No other injuries were reported.

“We were very happy to learn the one gentleman involved was OK,” said Matt Potter, who owns and manages the ICO convenience store and gas station with his father, Tom. “Our biggest concern was whether anyone had been hurt, especially given the time of day this happened and the amount of kids we see in and out of the store there.”

Isham was on his way to pick up a friend, Marcell Gaines, who lives nearby, when the collapse occurred. Gaines said he could scarcely believe his eyes when he walked over and saw what had happened. He counted himself fortunate not to have been in the vehicle with Isham at the time.

Looking back at the wreckage, Isham lamented that he had purchased the SUV only about a month ago.

“I don’t know what to do about my truck. I just bought it, and now it’s totaled,” Isham said.

Matt Potter said he and his father aim to reopen the store and station as soon as possible, possibly within a few days, but the timeline for repairs still needs to be determined in conjunction with ICO. Potter noted that the convenience store provides a number of grocery staples for area residents. The Potters also own and manage the Fourth Street Market & Deli at 102 E. Fourth St.

Duluth Assistant Fire Chief Bryan Bushey said crews cut power to the ICO building on Sixth Avenue East and taped off the scene to keep curious onlookers out of harm’s way immediately following the incident Sunday.

An inspector from the city’s building safety department was dispatched to the scene. Bushey said the cause of the collapse remains under investigation. He noted that recent warm weather should have helped reduce the overall snow load on the canopy, but uneven melting and a resulting shift in the balance of weight could have placed unusual strains on the structure.

Potter said the footings of the canopy appeared to have been uprooted and speculated that the recent cycle of freezing and thawing may have compromised the structure’s anchoring system.

Steve Kuchera of the News Tribune staff contributed to this report.

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