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Two Humboldt Park brothers went out for dinner last month. Forget the doggie bags; one brother went home in a body bag after a rear-ended van plowed through the restaurant's wall.

Last December, a man waiting for a parking place at a Palatine post office found a convenient spot after bulldozing through the front door, injuring 17 people. The driver was an epileptic who had blacked out--the same scenario that's gotten him into four other accidents since 1990.

And earlier last year, the federal ghost-payrolling investigation of former alderman Anthony Laurino and most of his family threatened to turn into a John Grisham novel when one alleged ghost slammed into a northwest-side building and died. Linda Holmes had been the girlfriend of the alderman's son, investigation target William J. Laurino, a state representative. Homicide was discounted because Holmes also had a seizure disorder. Police ruled out suicide too since, as one official put it, "very rarely do people commit suicide by driving motor vehicles into walls."

Does it just seem like more buildings are turning into parking lots? Well, yes. According to Illinois Department of Transportation statistics, such accidents have decreased since IDOT began tracking them in 1988. That year saw 489 cars assaulting buildings statewide, with 53 in Chicago. By 1994, that was down to 322 statewide, 22 in Chicago. And accidents should decrease further thanks to a recent proposal that unanimously passed the Illinois House. It would require police to report accidents involving loss of consciousness to the secretary of state's office. The driver in the Palatine case had shown a spotless record.

But that doesn't mean you're in the clear, as recent accidents show. Are there any safety precautions you can take to avoid being hit by cars inside buildings? "Well, I'm not sure we've published any driving tips along those lines," says the secretary of state's Cathy Ritter, adding, "Always sit behind steel girders." --Cate Plys

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Tony Griff.

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