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Monday, May 20, 2024


Driverless Trash Truck Damages Historic Residence

Cape May Fire Department
The Elward House in Cape May suffered damage when a trash truck rolled into the building.

By Christopher South

CAPE MAY – A trash truck backed into the historic Elward House on Decatur Street in Cape May on Monday, May 13, causing structural damage that threatened the second- and third-floor decks with collapse.

The Cape May Police Department received a 911 call at 12:46 p.m. that day about a vehicle striking a building and a utility pole at 11 Decatur St. In the meantime, Cape May Fire Chief Alex Coulter was driving on Beach Avenue and saw commotion on Decatur Street; he turned his vehicle around and went to the scene.

Cape May Fire Department firefighters were called and evacuated the occupants of the residence, which according to is valued at more than $3 million.

Coulter said the driver of the trash truck left his vehicle and the truck then rolled backward, crossing the street and striking the utility pole and the house.

Due to the structural damage and possible imminent collapse of the second- and third-floor decks, he called in a technical rescue alarm and quickly upgraded it to a second alarm, requesting the Cape May County Regional Urban Search & Rescue Team and assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard Fire Department, West Cape May Volunteer Fire Company and the utility companies.

The chief said the county rescue team includes a structural engineer, who led them to develop a plan to stabilize the building. He said they immediately shored up the decks from the first and second floors.

“We immediately got struts to support the building and got lumber for shoring it up. It’s still there,” he said on May 15.

According to information on the Cape May Fire Department Facebook page, crews were on the scene for just over three hours. During that time, the Erma Volunteer Fire Company, Town Bank Volunteer Fire Company and Wildwood Crest EMS provided coverage for Cape Island.

There were no injuries to residents or fire/rescue personnel.

A property report completed in 2008, provided by the Historic Preservation Commission, listed the Elward House as being “over 100 years old.” The house appeared on an 1886 map as a rectangular building with a rear wing.

It also appeared on a 1906 postcard, referred to as the Aldine/Elward House, as well as on subsequent maps. In 2007, the property report says, there was a fire in one of the third-floor apartments.

The Elward House was described in the report as having about 30 apartments used for seasonal rentals.

Contact the reporter, Christopher South, at or 609-886-8600, ext. 128.


Christopher South is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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