HAMLET — “The noise it made was like an earthquake,” John Garner said of the crash that left a gaping hole in the front of his store Sunday.
“There was a loud sound on impact, and then the shelves started moving and things started coming down,” he added. “You could hear the shelves sliding across the floor. Everything shifted.”
Garner narrowly escaped being hit as the front end of a Ford SUV driven by Walter Davis of Hamlet burst through the wall of concrete and brick. Two customers in the store and two employees escaped injury, as did Davis and all three passengers in the vehicle.
“I was here,” said Garner, pointing to a glass door leading out of the far right side of the store. “I’d walked to the back to get a Diet Coke and had come right around the corner when it happened. I heard the noise and immediately knew something was happening, and I kept close to the door.”
That door, scarcely 10 feet away from the hole now boarded up with plywood, remained intact.
Looking at the damaged building, it’s difficult to believe that no one was injured.
Hamlet police say the crash occurred at 12:52 p.m. — a time when Garner said the store is normally crowded with customers.
Police Sgt. Richard Jordan was as surprised as anyone when he arrived to see what had happened.
“When we got the call, the top dispatcher said ‘vehicle versus Convenience Corner,’” said Jordan. “We thought maybe a car had just bumped into the building, but we got there and saw half of a vehicle sticking out. It wasn’t what I was expecting.”
The SUV’s driver, his wife and two children were in the SUV when it slammed into the store.
“It wasn’t as bad as it could have been,” Davis said. “The brakes failed. We were coming from church and were getting ready to park in front of the store to get some lemonade for our Sunday dinner. I came off the road into the parking lot and was headed to a parking space, but when I hit the brakes, nothing happened and we just kept right on rolling. We were going about 10 miles per hour when we hit.”
Despite the lack of injuries, there was a very close call for one Convenience Corner employee who had just arrived for the beginning of her 1 p.m. shift.
“She was about to enter the store when the crash happened,” said Garner. “She had just literally stepped past the place of impact where the SUV came through there. Our surveillance footage shows her standing about 2 or 3 feet from the car.”
Garner declined to name the employee out of respect for her privacy. He said a lot of people were shaken by the event, but both he and Davis agreed it was impressive how quickly people arrived on the scene to assist.
“I really was pleased with 911 and the response from the Hamlet Police Department, EMS and Hamlet Fire and Rescue,” said Garner. “There were even five or six sheriff’s cars from the county. I’m very thankful for how rapidly they arrived.”
Davis was equally impressed by the response from ordinary people who just happened to be nearby.
“The most amazing thing to me was how many people came to see whether anyone was hurt,” Davis said. “I really thank God no one was injured. That’s a heavy vehicle. When it’s traveling, it’s traveling. I want to give all credit and glory to God that this was not more catastrophic. It could have been very bad.”
Convenience Corner will be closed for about 10 days to two weeks for repairs and remodeling, depending on estimates from insurance adjusters. In the meantime, the gas pumps remain available for debit and credit card purchases.
Reach reporter Melonie Flomer at 910-997-3111, ext. 15.