Impatient truck driver destroys Latchis marquee

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BRATTLEBORO -- The marquee of the Latchis Theater was nearly ripped off the front of the building Monday after a southbound truck driver, impatient with a traffic light delay at "Malfunction Junction," drove up on the sidewalk in an attempt to get around stopped cars.

The driver, Richard J. Belt, of Claremont, N.H., received a citation for driving on the sidewalk, a non-criminal offense, said Brattleboro Police Officer John Frechette, who said it appeared Belt got tired of waiting for the lights to change while a freight train was on the tracks at the junction of Bridge Street and Route 119.

The eight-wheel panel truck is owned by Harvey Industries in White River Junction.

The accident, which happened just past noon, won't have an effect on the Latchis' film or event schedule, said Gail Nunziata, managing director of the Latchis and the Brattleboro Arts Initiative, which owns the building, but patrons will need to use the Latchis Hotel entrance on Flat Street for the time being, she said.

"I was in my office when I heard a big crunch and glass shattering," said Nunziata.

The underlying structure of the marquee, which is an original component of the building, was not damaged, but the marquee itself was destroyed and will need to be replaced, she said.

The marquee itself has gone through several changes over the years.

Lisa Bloch, BAI's treasurer and vice president -- and soon-to-be president -- rushed to the scene as soon as Nunziata called her.

"It's an awful mess," she said.

GPI Construction was called to the scene to stabilize the marquee in advance of taking it down.

Evan James of Evan James Limited, located next door to the theater's entrance, said he didn't see the truck hit the marquee, but did see the driver driving up on the sidewalk.

"He got so close I thought he was going to come through my window," said James.

Then, he heard a crash.

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"It sounded like a bomb went off," said James.

The entrances to Evan James Limited and Windham Wines were not affected by the accident.

Traffic was stopped because a freight train was on the tracks, blocking access to Route 119, a problem that has caused much consternation to drivers and downtown businesses alike since new traffic lights were installed earlier this year.

"All the traffic tie-ups I have witnessed ... it was only a matter of time before something like this happened," said Nunziata, adding she was thankful that no one was hurt by the driver's rash actions.

Brian Bannon, Brattleboro's zoning administrator, said BAI will have to come before the Development Review Board to replace the marquee.

"The zoning code is ambiguous about whether marquees are allowed," he said.

But the Latchis does have precedence in its favor, he said, because a marquee was approved for New England Youth Theatre, though it is only 64 square feet.

Bannon said the Latchis' marquee most likely exceeded that size.

Until the DRB makes a decision on what kind of and what size marquee can be installed, he said, he will most likely issue a temporary permit to allow some sort of signboard to be put up.

Nunziata said she will be meeting with the board of BAI to create an action plan, but one thing is certain.

"We're not going to leave it looking like this for too long, she said.

Frechette said Belt could be fined and receive points on his license.

He also said the Department of Motor Vehicles will most likely review the incident to determine how it might affect Belt's commercial driving license.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.


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