Van Buren Pedestrian Bridge

Courtesy of Alan Bronec of Light Our Bridges. The side view of the Van Buren Pedestrian Bridge covered in white LED lights designed by the President of Brilliant Lighting Design in Miami, Robert Daniels. The lights will be turned on at 6 p.m. today and will continue to light up the nights throughout the winter. 

A drunk driver ran onto the Van Buren Street Footbridge Saturday, Oct. 15, scaring swing dancing club members who were meeting there. Witnesses reportedly stopped the driver, who Missoula Police charged with a DUI. No one was injured.

Emily Messer, a first-year member of the UM swing dancing club Grizzly Stomp, was on the footbridge at 10:05 p.m. with her friends when she heard fellow club members shouting. 

It’s commonplace to shout “bike” when dancers see someone coming, Messer said, so she wasn’t immediately worried, but something in the shouts’ tone spelled danger. Her muscles locked when she saw the headlights on the edge of the bridge, and it finally clicked what the members were shouting: “Car.”

“There’s nowhere to go on that bridge,” Messer said. “It was scary.”

Messer said the car looked to be driving 10-15 mph, slow enough to see it coming but too fast to outrun. There wouldn’t be anywhere to escape an incoming car on a bridge that narrow, and Messer said she considered jumping into the water.

Some Grizzly Stomp attendees ran at the car to stop it, University of Montana Police Chief Brad Giffin said. Messer remembers the attendees pulling the driver out of the car to stop them, but Giffin could not confirm if that was how the driver was removed. Messer remembers the driver was limp and she thought the driver was drunk.

“It is not advisable to step in front of a moving vehicle in any situation, even at slow speeds,” Giffin said in an email. “A human is no match for a 3,000 pound vehicle. In this case no one was injured and that is a good thing, but the potential was definitely there.”

Giffin said that he appreciates witnesses taking action, but a safer route would be to move yourself and others out of the way of the vehicle.

The driver drove onto the bridge from the campus side, and half of the car’s front bumper was torn off. Just before driving up the bridge, the driver collided with another vehicle, which UMPD reported. The driver had exchanged information with the other vehicle’s driver, Giffin said.

After the near hit, anxiety was high at Grizzly Stomp. Messer remembers feeling frozen, and club members around her were in a frenzy of nerves. Although the club was still open to meeting for another hour and over 50 attendees were present before the near hit, people quickly trickled out, Messer said. Some members, like her boyfriend, were frightened and wanted to leave immediately, while others were angry.

“There wasn’t a barrier strong enough to stop that car,” Messer said. “If it had been going any faster, or if those guys hadn’t been able to stop it, people could’ve been hurt or killed.”

This isn’t the end of Messer’s swing dancing attendance, but Messer said she won’t be fast to forget the incident.

Grizzly Stomp regularly meets on Saturdays at the footbridge, also known as the lock bridge, from 9 to 11 p.m, and Tuesdays on the Oval at the same time.