Home / News / 19 years ago today, a Dave Matthews Band tour bus dumped human waste on a tour boat on the Chicago River. Here is our original report.

19 years ago today, a Dave Matthews Band tour bus dumped human waste on a tour boat on the Chicago River. Here is our original report.


Editor’s note: Nineteen years ago, a Dave Matthews Band tour bus crossing the Chicago River released a flood of foul-smelling waste onto a tour boat and passengers below. At the time, no one knew who was responsible for the unloading, but the Chicago Tribune first reported this based on interviews with passengers, including a Tribune reporter and tour boat company. The event will eventually become associated with the group, and accusations, apologies, and at least one lawsuit will follow. Read the original story and see additional coverage below.

At the start of a Chicago River cruise on Sunday, Captain Sonja Lund said passengers shouldn’t look up with their mouths open as they pass under the city’s railed bridges, or they shouldn’t get a real “taste of Chicago”.

After about 15 minutes, the passengers took more than that. Passengers and tour officials said they experienced a deluge when the boat was soaked with a dirty “liquid” that appeared to have fallen from one or two rental buses as it passed under the Kinzie Street bridge.

Witnesses said they had just begun their 1:00 p.m. tour of the Chicago Architecture Foundation when they passed under the bridge and a “brownish-yellow” substance rained down on them. About two-thirds of the passengers sitting on the upper deck of Chicago’s Little Lady were soaked. Passengers said that when they looked up, they saw at least one, possibly two, rental buses roaring overhead.

A volunteer tour guide at the boat’s helm reassured passengers that the water was splashed. But the foul odor aroused suspicion.

“At first there was an astonishing silence. Then there was this kind of terrifying realization when they started sniffing themselves about what had happened,” said Steedman Bass, 35, from Boston, who was a passenger on the boat but was not sprayed. “It was terrible.”

The passengers demanded that the boat be turned away, shouting that the police should be called. The tour was back at the docks at Michigan Avenue and Lower Wacker Drive in a matter of minutes, “as fast as the boat can go,” Lund said.

Bass said some passengers were bothered by the smell and used the boat’s lower deck bathrooms.

At the pier, 120 passengers disembarked and received a refund for $25 tickets, exchanges, or open-ended tickets for subsequent tours. Foundation officials said that some passengers were given a taxi fare to return to their hotels, and that some passengers’ dry cleaning bills would be paid. The boat’s crew cleared the deck and departed for the 3 p.m. tour, only slightly delayed.

“We feel very sorry for these people who ruined today’s event,” said Bastiaan Bouma, the foundation’s vice president of marketing and tours. In 50 years of operation, Tur has never experienced anything like this.”

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“Of course it wasn’t our fault. But we were just trying to make it as comfortable as possible for the passengers.”

Bouma said he was told that someone had recorded the license plate numbers from the bus or buses and reported the plates to the police. He said he hopes to learn the company’s name by Monday morning and that the company will request that its buses be inspected for defects.

“Tomorrow morning we will find out which buses are involved and hopefully we will get some answers,” he said.

Police confirmed a tip-off had been made, but said it was not being investigated as a crime.

A local tour bus company official said he had never heard of a bus dumping liquid waste from the bridge into the river. Charter bus companies often contract with disposal companies to dispose of their waste or dump it at their own disposal sites, he said.

Passengers said they were shocked by the gruesome timing of the unlikely hit.

“If you try to arrange this, that would be a nearly impossible scenario,” Bass said.


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