April 30, 2005 in Nation/World

Band settles waste-dumping suit

Michael Hawthorne Chicago Tribune
 
File/Associated Press photo

Musician Dave Matthews is seen on the dock at his pond outside Charlottesville, Va., in 2000.
(Full-size photo)

CHICAGO — There is a summer tour to prepare for and a new flavor of environmentally conscious ice cream to promote, but the Dave Matthews Band still needed to resolve that messy incident from the last time the rock group was in Chicago.

About a month before the band performs in Chicago again, it agreed Friday to pay $200,000 to settle a state lawsuit filed last summer after one of the group’s tour bus drivers dumped 800 pounds of human waste from a tank on a Chicago River sightseeing cruise.

The fine will go into a fund for environmental education projects. The group also agreed to keep records for the next five years detailing where and when the waste tanks on its tour buses are emptied while in Illinois.

In return, the band was allowed to avoid admitting guilt in court. And it won a provision intended to make it more difficult for the tour boat operator and at least one passenger on the ill-fated cruise to use the settlement in their own lawsuits against the band.

“This settlement is reasonable and appropriate given the public and environmental health threats caused by this foul incident,” Attorney General Lisa Madigan said in a statement.

The agreement comes a month after the bus driver pleaded guilty to a pair of misdemeanor charges. Stefan Wohl was sentenced to 18 months probation and 150 hours of community service and fined $10,000. The band has since fired him.

Wohl admitted he emptied the waste tank of his bus Aug. 8 while driving alone across the grated Kinzie Street bridge. He told authorities he was on his way to the Peninsula Hotel, where band members of the Dave Matthews Band were staying while playing two concerts in Wisconsin.

Tourists on a popular architectural sightseeing cruise reported they were doused with a brownish-yellow liquid at about the same time a black and silver bus crossed the bridge. Some of the passengers suffered nausea after the waste cascaded into their eyes and mouths and soaked their hair and clothing.

After initially denying any involvement, the band donated $50,000 each to the Chicago Park District and the advocacy group Friends of the Chicago River.

The group’s summer tour begins June 1 in Maryland Heights, Mo. The new Dave Matthews Band Magic Brownies flavor of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream (vanilla ice cream with fudge brownie chunks and raspberry swirls) features packaging encouraging fans to “lick global warming.”

“We were shocked and saddened that one of our buses was involved in this terrible incident,” the band said in a statement about the legal settlement. “And we have worked hard to make things right for all concerned.”

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