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Truck hits, damages Duluth's Sacred Heart Music Center

A pickup truck driven by Kevin Humphrey crashed into the rear of Sacred Heart Church along Second Avenue West Thursday afternoon. Humphrey said he lost his brakes. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com2 / 4
A pickup truck hit the side of Duluth's Sacred Heart Music Center on Thursday afternoon, causing damage to the historic building. (Grace Pastoor / gpastoor@duluthnews.com)3 / 4
Kevin Humphrey, the driver of the pickup who crashed into the rear of Sacred Heart Church Thursday afternoon, talks with a construction inspector at the scene Thursday afternoon. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com4 / 4

A driver escaped serious injury — but the front of his pickup truck was left buried in fallen bricks — after losing control of the vehicle and crashing into Duluth’s Sacred Heart Music Center on Thursday afternoon.

A damage estimate for the building wasn’t immediately available Thursday night as crews worked to stabilize the damaged corner of the historic former church. The truck remained embedded in the building several hours after the crash; it was removed later in the evening, and the hole in the building boarded up.

“We’re shoring up the building and trying to stabilize it so it’s safe,” said Arno Kahn of Builders Commonwealth, who also is a Sacred Heart board member. Kahn said some of the damaged or destroyed elements — including a stained glass window — were “priceless.”

The truck crashed into the north corner of the Central Hillside landmark after the driver lost control while traveling down Second Avenue West from Mesaba Avenue at about 3 p.m., according to Assistant Fire Chief Clint Reff.

Kevin Humphrey, 31, who said he was driving the pickup, said his “brakes went completely out,” and that he had to swerve to avoid traffic.

“I saw a truck in front of me and I was like, all right, let’s swerve to get off the street,” Humphrey said. “I’m not trying to take nobody out.”

Burny Tibbetts, who was supervising a building demolition nearby, witnessed the crash. He said he saw the truck come down the hill and heard squealing and big crash, before he saw Humphrey exit the truck.

“He got out and laid on the street,” Tibbetts said. “He wasn’t hurt, but he was pretty shook up.”

Nobody else was in the truck at the time of the crash, Reff said. He said it was not immediately clear what caused the truck’s brakes to fail.

Police said Humphrey was cited for driving without a valid license, and for an equipment violation. He was treated at the scene for minor injuries and released, authorities said.

Eric Swanson, sound engineer and director of the music center, was in a room on the opposite side of the building from the crash, but said he heard a “boom.” Swanson was on the scene as police and firefighters surveyed the damage to the building.

The building already had been undergoing restoration work on its roof and bell tower. Builders Commonwealth’s Kahn is the general contractor on the restoration, and his crew was on site Wednesday evening to ensure the building was safe after the collision. Crew workers were checking for loose bricks on the exterior and stacking up the bricks that had collapsed around the truck, while others were shoveling debris out the hole in the side of the church. 

Kahn said crews will try to reconstruct the fallen wall, but some parts of it may be challenging. They’ll need to find an artist who can create a leaded glass window to replace the one that was destroyed, he said.

“I don’t know how to put a value on that,” he said.

The cornerstone for the former Sacred Heart Cathedral was laid in 1894; the cathedral was dedicated in 1896. A massive 1,500-pipe Felgemaker organ was installed in the Gothic-Revival building in 1898.

In 1985, the diocese closed and deconsecrated the church. The following year, the building was acquired by a nonprofit group called the Sacred Heart Memorial Association and placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It eventually was adapted for re-use as the Sacred Heart Music Center performing arts venue.

News Tribune reporter Lisa Kaczke contributed to this report.

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