A bus driver for the Dave Matthews Band pleaded guilty March 9 to charges stemming from the dumping of 800 pounds of human waste from his vehicle's septic tank onto a sightseeing boat on the Chicago River.
Stefan Wohl was sentenced to 18 months probation and 150 hours of community service, said Tom Stanton, a spokesman for the Cook County state's attorney's office. Wohl also was fined the maximum $10,000, which will be paid to Friends of the Chicago River, a conservation group.
Wohl, 42, of Selma, Texas, was charged with reckless conduct and discharging contaminates to cause water pollution. He did not make a statement in court.
Authorities said that on August 8, when Wohl was alone in a bus used by band violinist Boyd Tinsley, he emptied the septic tank while driving across the open grating deck of the Kinzie Street bridge.
The human waste poured through the metal grates and onto the open deck of the Chicago's Little Lady tour boat, which was passing below with more than 100 people on board. Some passengers said they were soaked by it.
The boat immediately returned to its dock and was disinfected, and officials with the Chicago Architectural Foundation, which operates the tour, offered refunds.
When Wohl was charged in January, prosecutors said he had denied discharging waste on the bridge. Wohl's attorney, Mark Rotert, did not immediately return a call for comment after the court hearing.
Authorities said they used surveillance tapes from area buildings to zero in on the bus and consulted with engineers to determine the waste release was not an accident.
Prosecutors said the band cooperated in the investigation, flying Tinsley to Chicago to be interviewed by authorities and bringing the bus, one of a number used by the band, back for inspection.
Shortly after the incident, the band issued a statement on its Web site saying that if the bus was found to be responsible, the band would "work quickly to make amends, with the people on the boat and with Chicago.''
The band has since donated $50,000 to the Friends of the Chicago River and $50,000 to the Chicago Park District.
Wohl is currently suspended without pay from his job with the group, said Dave Matthews Band spokesman John Vlautin.
"We're really shocked and saddened that one of our buses was involved in this incident,'' Vlautin said. "We're continuing to make every effort to make amends with the people on that boat.''
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has filed a civil lawsuit seeking $70,000 in damages against the band and driver alleging they violated state environmental laws. That case is ongoing, and the next court date is scheduled for next month, according to Madigan spokeswoman Melissa Merz.
Several passengers have also filed personal injury lawsuits.
Assistant State's Attorney Robert Egan said Wednesday that none of the boat's passengers contracted any illnesses from the waste.
"Almost everyone had to throw their clothes away. A few of them dirtied up their cars,'' Egan said. "But there were, thank goodness, no lasting effects, no bacterial infections or diseases or anything like that.''
Environmental officials said after the incident that most charter buses get rid of waste at licensed disposal sites. City officials have said they will step up inspections of tour buses restrooms and plumbing and increase fines for illegal dumping.
FILE CARTOON BY DON BERARD