Bus Driver for Dave Matthews Band Drives Into Lawsuit

August 26, 2004

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has filed a suit alleging that a driver for the Dave Matthews Band flicked a switch behind the driver’s seat of a leased tour bus as he drove over the Chicago River and released up to 800 pounds of liquid human waste that poured down through a grated bridge into the river and onto tour boat passengers looking upward at the city’s stunning architecture. Madigan’s lawsuit was filed this week in Cook County Circuit Court.

Madigan’s lawsuit alleges Dave Matthews Band Inc., a Virginia corporation, and a band employee, Stefan A. Wohl, are responsible for the Aug. 8 dumping into the Chicago River, allegedly polluting the water and endangering public health by drenching passengers of a local sightseeing tour boat with liquid human waste. Passengers on the tour boat included a person with disabilities, senior citizens, a pregnant woman, an infant and a small child.

“This incident may be unique, but that does not lessen the environmental or public health risks posed by the release of up to 800 pounds of liquid human waste into a busy waterway and onto a crowded tour boat,” Madigan said. “This situation clearly demonstrates the environmental and public health problems that can occur when laws are ignored. This act was not only offensive, it was illegal.”

Madigan’s three-count complaint charges the Dave Matthews Band and Wohl with violations of the Illinois Environmental Protection Act for water pollution and the discharge of a contaminant into a waterway without the proper permits. Additionally, Madigan’s suit charges the defendants with one count of common law public nuisance.

According to Madigan’s suit, the Dave Matthews Band stayed at a Chicago hotel while performing at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin, during the weekend of Aug. 7 and 8. The band allegedly brought to Chicago at least five 45-foot tour buses, leased from Four Seasons Coach Leasing Inc., of Lebanon, Tennessee.

On Sunday, Aug. 8, at approximately 1 p.m., Wohl allegedly got behind the wheel of one of the band’s buses and began driving from a parking area just west of the Chicago River. The bus allegedly headed east on Kinzie Street toward a downtown hotel, where a band member was waiting to be picked up. Madigan’s suit alleges that at approximately 1:18 p.m., the bus began to cross the Kinzie Street bridge.

While driving the bus across the grated bridge, Wohl allegedly flicked a toggle switch located behind the driver’s seat, emptying the contents of the bus’ septic tank into the Chicago River below. The septic tank holds approximately 80 to 100 gallons of raw sewage and empties through a drain located at the bottom of and underneath the bus.

According to the suit, the waste spilled through the grated roadway of the bridge and down into the river below and onto a sightseeing tour boat carrying approximately 109 passengers and traveling southbound on the Chicago River. The boat allegedly passed directly under the bridge as the waste cascaded down from above.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Act states that “no person shall allow the discharge of any contaminant into the environment in any State so as to cause water pollution in Illinois.” The Act defines a contaminant as “any solid, liquid or gaseous matter, any odor or any form of energy, from whatever source.”

Under Illinois law, the group would have had to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit to dump the contents of its septic tank into state waters. No such permit was obtained for the downtown Chicago dumping.

Madigan’s suit seeks civil penalties of $60,000 for the alleged water pollution violation and an additional $10,000 civil penalty for the permit violation.

The suit also seeks reimbursement for the state’s legal costs and requests that the court order the defendants to evaluate their on-board waste disposal practices.

No word yet if any of the individuals on the sightseeing tour boat plan to file any claims.

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.