UPS truck crashes into Hirshhorn Museum after running off street

By Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 11, 2010; B01

A delivery truck ran off the road Monday night, broke through a concrete barrier and smashed into the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden on Independence Avenue SW, in the heart of tourist Washington.

In an incident with little if any recent precedent on the National Mall, the truck shattered a plate-glass window that forms part of the outer wall of the museum's lobby.

The driver was taken to a hospital with serious injuries. The museum had closed to the public three hours before the 8:30 p.m. crash, and no other injuries were reported.

Pete Piringer, a spokesman for the D.C. fire and emergency services department, said the vehicle was a UPS truck. Authorities said it apparently was loaded with packages when it swerved onto the sidewalk.

Outside the building, according to officials' accounts, the truck ran through the low concrete structures that serve as flower pots and provide protection.

Linda St. Thomas, spokeswoman for the Smithsonian Institution, of which the circular-shaped museum is part, said the truck came about one foot into the building.

She said it appeared that the concrete barrier slowed the truck.

"Absolutely," she said.

The museum, described as a low cylinder perched on legs, exhibits art on the two floors above the ground level. No art was affected by the crash, officials said.

Hirshhorn spokesman Gabriel Riera said a large Claes Oldenburg sculpture exhibited outdoors on the side where the truck entered was also untouched.

A museum shop in the lobby was not in the area of the crash, Riera said.

Authorities sent the city's bomb disposal unit to the scene as a precaution, police said.

St. Thomas said it appeared that each package in the truck was being inspected Monday night.

"They are doing a check of boxes and packages," she said. While that was happening, it appeared that Independence Avenue SW, in the vicinity of the museum, was to remain closed.

Officials said the Hirshhorn would be open Tuesday.

The museum, surfaced with precast concrete aggregate, houses modern and contemporary art. It opened in the 1970s on a site between the Smithsonian's Castle and the Air and Space Museum. It is on the south side of the Mall, between Jefferson Drive SW to the north and Independence Avenue SW to the south.

St. Thomas said she understood that the truck was headed east, on the south side of Independence, when it swerved into the westbound lanes, then crossed the approximately 25 yards between the curb and the museum.

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