Dave Matthews Band Chicago River incident

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Kinzie Street Bridge (front), the location of the incident.

On August 8, 2004 over the Kinzie Street Bridge in Chicago, Illinois, a tour bus belonging to the Dave Matthews Band dumped an estimated 800 pounds of human waste from the bus's septic tank onto a passenger sightseeing boat on the Chicago River below.

The resulting controversy led to more than $300,000 in settlements, donations, and fines.[1] The band's bus driver, Stefan Wohl, pleaded guilty to dumping the waste in March 2005.[2]


Chicago’s Little Lady, the passenger boat involved in the incident.

The Dave Matthews Band had booked rooms at the Peninsula Hotel of 108 E. Superior St. for a two-night show at a venue in East Troy, Wisconsin.[3] The incident occurred between the first and second night of the concert. The band booked five buses for its show; accused bus driver Stefan Wohl drove the bus of Dave Matthews Band violinist Boyd Tinsley.

During warm months, the Chicago Architecture Foundation offers a boat tour of the buildings along the Chicago River.[4] The boats have open-roof seating, where passengers sit for the duration of the tour.

The riveted grate surface of the bridge allows liquids to pass through. The Chicago River is visible through the holes in the grate.

Most Chicago bridges feature riveted grating, which is used for its strength and anti-slip properties.[5] Riveted grating allows rain and other liquids to pass through, removing need for complicated drainage systems.


On Sunday, August 8, 2004 at 1:18 p.m.,[6] bus driver Wohl drove over the Kinzie Street Bridge and emptied the contents of his bus's septic tank through the open metal grate intending to deposit it into the Chicago River below. The bus's tank was full, containing 800 pounds of human waste.

Earlier, passenger boat Chicago’s Little Lady left Navy Pier at its 1:00 p.m. scheduled boat tour departure. While passing under the bridge, the boat received the full contents of the tank on the seats of its open-roof terrace. Roughly two-thirds of the 120 passengers aboard the tour boat were soaked.[7] The boat immediately returned to Navy Pier, where all passengers were issued refunds. Five passengers went to Northwestern Memorial Hospital for testing. According to the Illinois Attorney General, passengers aboard included persons with disabilities, elderly, a pregnant woman, a small child, and an infant. The filing also describes the incident further:

The liquid waste was brownish yellow in color, and had a foul, offensive odor. The liquid human waste went into passengers' eyes, mouths, hair, and onto clothing and personal belongings, many of which were soaked. Some of the passengers suffered nausea and vomiting as a result of exposure to the human waste.[6]


Immediately following the incident, evidence as to the identity of the bus or bus driver was unclear to the Chicago Police Department, who stated they were investigating the incident but did not yet consider it a crime. On August 9, the Chicago Architecture Foundation released a statement that a witness had recorded license plate information, which they had turned over to the police as evidence.[8] On August 10, bus driver Jerry Fitzpatrick, who also drove for the band, was identified as the owner of the bus's licence plate. In a phone interview, Fitzpatrick denied to a Chicago Tribune reporter that he had dumped the waste, asserting that he was parked in front of the band's hotel at the time.[3] A publicist for the Dave Matthews Band issued a statement in response, saying that the band's management had determined that every one of its buses were parked at the time of the incident.[3]

Fitzpatrick, who was in Effingham, Illinois at the time, instructed Sgt. Paul Gardner of the Effingham Police Department to inspect the bus's septic tank to prove that he could not have emptied it. Gardner reported to the Chicago Tribune over Fitzpatrick's cell phone that he had inspected the tank, and that it was nearly full.[3]

State prosecutors worked with a nearby fitness gym, the East Bank Club, to determine the offending bus based on the gym's security videotapes. On August 24, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan launched a $70,000 lawsuit against Wohl, alleging that he was responsible for the dumping. Wohl denied dumping the waste, and was supported by the band.[9][7] On August 25, Mayor Richard M. Daley held a press conference, in which he released the videotape used as evidence.[7] Daley also expressed his belief that the dumping was "absolutely unacceptable", but that he believed the Dave Matthews Band was "a very good band".[7]

In March 2005, Wohl pleaded guilty to reckless conduct and discharging contaminants to cause water pollution.[2] He was sentenced to 18 months of probation, as well as 150 hours of community service and paid a fine of $10,000 to Friends of the Chicago River, an environmental organization responsible for maintaining the river. The Dave Matthews Band donated an additional $50,000 to Friends of the Chicago River, as well as $50,000 to the Chicago Park District, and paid the State of Illinois $200,000 as a settlement.[2] The Dave Matthews Band additionally agreed to keep a log of when and where its buses empty their septic tanks.[1]

No passengers suffered any long-lasting physical health effects from the exposure.[10]


  1. ^ a b "Band settles over sewage dumping". BBC News. April 30, 2005.
  2. ^ a b c "Band Driver Pleads Guilty To Dumping Waste". CBS2 Chicago. March 5, 2005. Archived from the original on February 16, 2006.
  3. ^ a b c d Hawthorne, Michael (August 10, 2004). "Band's driver denies drenching boat". Chicago Tribune.
  4. ^ "Chicago Architecture Foundation FAQ".
  5. ^ "Ohio Gratings: Bridge Grating Solutions" (PDF).
  6. ^ a b "Dave Matthews Sued For Dumping On Chicago". The Smoking Gun.
  7. ^ a b c d Johnson, Steve (August 8, 2019). "15 years after the Dave Matthews Band let loose over the Chicago River, we survey the damages and uncover a new victim". Chicago Tribune.
  8. ^ McNeil, Brett (August 8, 2019). "15 years ago today, a Dave Matthews Band tour bus dumped human waste on a tour boat in the Chicago River. Here's our original report". Chicago Tribune.
  9. ^ "Dave Matthews Band Blamed For Human Waste". CBS2 Chicago. August 24, 2004. Archived from the original on October 11, 2007.