Watch: 'There is a car in our dining room'
TOWN OF PLEASANT VALLEY — Tire screeches aren't an unusual occurrence outside Troy and Jessica Reis' home.
"No one slows down," Jessica said.
The aging farmhouse is situated at an awkward rural intersection where drivers often make last-second adjustments to make their turns. There was no tire screech, however, leading up to the Dec. 16 crash that shook the house they rent.
"It literally sounded like a bomb went off," Jessica said last week, recalling the incident, which happened at about 2:30 a.m.
After confirming her husband and daughter weren't hurt, she went downstairs to inspect the source of the sound. Jessica opened the door to her dining room and found herself face-to-face with the headlights of a vehicle.
She called upstairs.
"I said, 'Troy Ries, there is a car in our dining room," Jessica recalled.
Troy, recalling the middle-of-the-night confusion, said he was incredulous.
"No way. You're joking," he replied.
It was no joke.
Authorities would be called and eventually conclude a 27-year-old Minnesota woman was driving the car, which St. Croix County sheriff's deputies said vaulted off a ditch, then flew more than 100 feet in the air before crashing through the house. The driver, Woodbury resident Kellie M. Finke-Tchida, was later charged in St. Croix County Circuit Court with felony recklessly endangering safety and operating while intoxicated.
While she awaits a court date, the Reises are left picking up the pieces from the wreck, which displaced them for two nights while stop-gap repairs and cleanup took place at the house.
The crash punched a massive hole through the side of the home and left extensive damage to the family's belongings. Jessica has a notepad containing three pages' worth of items destroyed in the crash.
"We're just glad that everybody is OK," Jessica said. "The rest is just stuff."
Belongings that once occupied the family's main level now fill a roll-off dumpster parked in the front yard.
Part of the wreckage in the dumpster includes wood from the deck the car struck. Troy said that portion of the structure made all the difference between a property-loss incident and a human tragedy.
"That deck saved my wife's life," he said, describing how the structure absorbed the impact from the car, which was on a trajectory to strike the room Jessica was sleeping in that night.
Jessica noted how the family dog Jack was spared thanks to a random decision by her daughter to bring the dog upstairs with her that night. Jack's normal sleeping spot was in a kennel that was directly in harm's way, she said.
"Debris went everywhere," Jessica said.
Intersection 'on our radar' for repairs
After the house is fixed, the next repair the Rieses said they'd like to see made is at the intersection.
Troy said he's frustrated with the alignment at the intersection, saying it's become increasingly unsafe in the past year-and-a-half he and Jessica have lived there.
"I just want to see something different happen," he said.
While there is anecdotal evidence suggesting the December crash wasn't a one-off — a Google Maps street-view image from 2008 shows tire tracks running through the exact same ditch — there is not extensive crash data backing that up.
In 15 years of state accident data reported by multiple agencies, the only other crash from that intersection occurred in 2014. As with the December crash, alcohol and speed were listed as factors in that incident.
Still, St. Croix County's top highway official said the intersection is a concern and that there are plans to address it.
Highway Commissioner Rob Krejci said the county has identified the County Road W and J intersection as needing correction. He said the "three-legged" intersection poses a safety concern, noting the county is aware of both crashes there since 2014.
"It is on our radar to replace," Krejci said.
He said the plan calls for eliminating the curved "conflict points" where the roads meet and replacing them with a more traditional four-way stop with 90-degree angles.
The intersection is in the county's five-year capital improvement plan, Krejci said, adding there's no specific date yet for the project.