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Driver, not storm, is reason for plywood

Published Aug. 28, 2005

The plywood on the Central Avenue side of Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ has nothing to do with Charley, Frances or Ivan.

James D. Grim, 51, a computer consultant from Oldsmar, takes the blame.

He was driving to a job in St. Petersburg last week when he crashed into the church at 6315 Central Ave. The accident demolished part of Pilgrim's landscaping, shattered its floor-to-ceiling stained glass memorial windows and pushed one of its anchored pews into an aisle.

"Basically, I was trying to eject a tape out of my tape deck. It gets stuck sometimes," Grim said Tuesday in a telephone interview.

"I wasn't hurt, except for a couple of scratches and bruises. And I went into the church to make sure nobody was hurt, but there was nobody there. A police officer came by and gave me a ticket for careless driving _ again."

Grim said he got a $114 ticket. His 1989 BMW was totaled. It wasn't his first accident. His checkered driving record shows that his license was suspended in April for 30 days.

Once, he says he rear-ended other drivers twice in one hour.

"The first two careless driving tickets were when I rear-ended someone at a stoplight going to computer school, which is in Tampa," he said.

"Two within an hour. The state trooper that got me on the first one happened to get me on the other. Of course, they gave me the normal sobriety test, but that wasn't the problem," said Grim, who added that he takes several medications, including one for seizures.

He said he didn't have a seizure the day of the accident at the church.

The Rev. Brad Purdy remembers that day well. He had been on vacation.

"I got a call from one of the members of the church that someone had driven in the window and I immediately came down and met with the investigative officer. At that particular time, he indicated that the gentleman who was driving the car had hit the curb out on Central Avenue a couple of times and on the last hit came off the street and came into the window," Purdy said.

"It is something I never fathomed could ever happen. If you look at the church itself and look where it sits off Central Avenue, to think that anybody could ever hit this was unbelievable."

The pastor said he is thankful that no one was seriously hurt in the accident, which took place around noon on Sept. 14.

"I call that a miracle. Oftentimes we have funerals between 11 and 12. We, as a church, we can replace windows. We can reconstruct the church and put it back, but I could never replace a human life," he said.

The church, which has about 140 members, does not have a final estimate of the damage. The windows were installed only about two years ago, Purdy said, and there appears to be some structural damage to the building itself.

The accident has not interrupted services. Last Sunday, Purdy simply shifted his congregation to the First Avenue N side of the sanctuary, away from possible shards of broken glass. Though much of the broken glass has been removed, the church's insurance company is concerned that some might still be lodged in the blue pew cushions, carpet or bare floor, Purdy said.

"We have to take additional precautions to make sure no one is cut in the future," he said.

Times staff researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.