WOONSOCKET — One man has been arrested and police are looking for a second man in connection with an auto accident that heavily damaged a side entrance to historic St. Charles Borromeo Church, on North Main Street, early Wednesday morning, Nov. 27.
The passenger in the vehicle, Jalen Asean Abney, 18, of 317 Summer St., Woonsocket, who was taken into custody following the accident, identified to police the driver of what officials have described as a stolen SUV. Abney is charged with possession of a stolen motor vehicle, a 2002 Oldsmobile Bravada, which was involved in the crash. The vehicle was reported stolen on Nov. 15, according to Woonsocket police. Both men fled the scene but Abney was captured nearby with scrapes and bruises.
In the police report description of Abney, it is observed that he has several tattoos, including a pair on his chest depicting rosary beads and folded praying hands.
The crash into the church building, which recently celebrated the 125th anniversary of its construction in 1868, ended a brief pursuit by police that was hampered by heavy rainfall and slippery roadways. The pursuit started on Gaskill Street with the stolen vehicle reaching speeds up to 75 miles per hour on the narrow roadways in the north end of the city, police said.
Insurance adjustors were expected to inspect the site of the collision early this week to determine the cost of the damage.
Father Gerald F. Finnegan S.J., pastor of St. Charles Borromeo, was awakened Wednesday shortly after 2 a.m. when police called to tell him about the crash at the church across the street. The SUV struck the granite side entrance on North Main Street, dislodging a portion of the entry way, before bouncing off the building on impact.
The vehicle continued down the sidewalk beside the church where metal railings were ripped out of the ground, before colliding with a second granite walkway and careening across North Main Street where a parked car was struck.
“I just couldn’t believe that a car could cause that much damage to that granite,” Father Finnegan told The Rhode Island Catholic Saturday as he again viewed the site. A bumper, a fender and numerous auto parts were strewn from Daniels Street at the rear of the church to a point half way down the block, police reported.
Parishioners arriving for Saturday 4 p.m. Mass stopped by to view the damage before entering the church.
“Oh my gosh!” church choir member Paulette Tarmey exclaimed when she saw the damage.
“It looks like those explosions you see on TV,” said Michael Liberto.
Bernard Rochambeault entered the church Saturday afternoon and wondered whether the entrance would ever look the same again.
“I don’t know if they can put those stones back in place,” he said.
One elderly couple braced themselves against the cold wind to walk up North Main Street to see the damage before Mass.
The woman, who asked not to be named, said, “It looks like a bomb exploded.”
Father Finnegan said the parish is proud that the noted 19th century architect Patrick C. Keely, widely known both in the United States and Europe as the “pioneer Catholic architect of America” and the designer and builder of more than 600 churches in the United States, designed St. Charles Borromeo, the first Catholic church in northern Rhode Island.
Keely also designed the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul in Providence, St. Mary Church in Newport and St. Joseph Church on Hope Street in Providence, Father Finnegan said.
The famed architect also designed such noted churches as Sacred Heart Basilica, at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana; Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Boston; Holy Name Cathedral, Chicago; and St. Joseph Cathedral, Hartford, according to the Web site patheos.com.
Finnegan said St. Charles Borromeo has gone through a rough stretch in the past two years. Another car crashed into a railing and flower garden at the church two years ago, and during Lent in 2012 someone stole three copper railings from St. Charles’ front entrance. The railings dated to the opening of the church building, the construction of which was paid for by the Irish immigrants who flocked to the city in the mid-19th century.
“‘You guys have had a bad year,’ a fire fighter told me the night of the crash,” Finnegan said.
Pauline Cote was sitting in a pew waiting for Mass Saturday afternoon.
“It is so sad. This was the first Catholic church in Woonsocket and there is a lot of history and meaning connected to this church. The young men involved don’t know what they were doing, they weren’t thinking.”
Parishioner Bob Ferland was sitting a few pews away.
“It is a sad thing that stuff like that happens,” he said. “We’ll make it better.”