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Driver strikes St. Paul parrot sanctuary

ST. PAUL—A man drove into a St. Paul building that houses a parrot sanctuary, filling the interior with natural gas, damaging a wall and leaving parrots' cages smashed, according to police and the organization.

No people or birds were injured in the Tuesday morning crash, although workers of Midwest Avian Adoption and Rescue Services described a chaotic scene where they feared for the roughly 80 parrots living there.

Police were called to the building at 10:50 a.m. Tuesday. A 49-year-old woman said she was dropping off her daughter in front of the building when she saw a sedan heading south.. The car jumped the curb and struck the building, according to Steve Linders, a St. Paul police spokesman.

The driver backed out of the building, off the curb, back onto the avenue and drove away with the car's front bumper dangling, Linders said. The witness got the license plate number.

The impact sent natural gas fumes rushing into the building, said Galiena Cimperman, executive director of the nonprofit. Cimperman said firefighters arrived on the scene while one of her volunteers was trying to get all the birds out of the building.

"She was trying to get back in to get the birds out, but the firefighters wouldn't let her," Cimperman said. "I understand what they were doing, but birds have very sensitive respiratory systems. She just loves that flock."

Remarkably, none of the birds appeared to have been injured, she said.

West St. Paul police had talked with the man, identified as Jesse Luis Ellingson Diaz, 27, of Mendota Heights. Diaz said he'd lost control of his vehicle and struck something, which he knew was not a vehicle or person, according to Linders. He denied being distracted at the time of the crash and police did not detect any signs of impairment. He said he'd panicked and left the area, but then realized he had several flat tires and stopped to call for a tow truck, Linders said.

Police cited Diaz for failure to drive with due care and leaving the scene of an accident, according to a police report. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

On Wednesday, Cimperman said the birds were dispersed throughout the building, which suffered heavy damage to a brick wall that was partially falling into the building.

"We're kind of in a holding pattern right now until we hear from the inspectors and the insurance company," she said, noting the organization's budget is about $70,000 a year.

The group, known as MAARS, has set up a fundraising site and will use the proceeds to make repairs to the building. By Wednesday afternoon, the site had raised $10,450.

"The public support has been amazing," Cimperman said.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.