Woman drives car through front of Champaign Subway shop
CHAMPAIGN — Nijole Grider was enjoying the sunny day and the nice stores at the Old Farms Shops on Kirby Avenue on Saturday when she decided to pick up a sandwich and head back home.
A few minutes before noon, the Fairmount woman was standing at the counter of the Subway at 1713 W. Kirby Ave. as employee Fred Harvey rang up her order.
Harvey heard a noise and saw a car barreling toward Grider and the counter. Grider looked over her shoulder and saw it coming, too, but said she just stood there momentarily frozen.
"I looked up and saw the car coming through the front glass," said Harvey, who reached for Grider to help her over the counter but she was already scrambling out of the way.
"She moved pretty quickly. I don't think I could have pulled her over in time," said Harvey. "The counter stopped like two inches in front of me. God was with me," he said.
And apparently everyone else in the shop.
A small white Nissan Versa driven by Pola Triandis, 83, of Urbana, had crashed through the front wall of the sandwich shop and didn't slow until it hit the counter where Grider's sandwich had just been prepared.
Deputy Police Chief Troy Daniels said Triandis reported she was parking and didn’t know what happened to cause her to jump the curb and enter the store.
Neither Triandis nor any of the other few people in the shop were injured. But the damage to the store was bad enough to shut it down.
"The inside of that store is destroyed," said Bart Basi, the owner of Cheese & Crackers next door to the south.
Basi and four of his employees were working next door when they heard a loud bang.
"Stuff came off the wall. A table that's next to the wall moved. The wall buckled and I thought, 'Gee, maybe something happened at Subway' and I stepped out the door. Within seconds of the disruption, I saw a woman in her car (inside Subway) trying to open the door," Basi said.
Basi said he helped the woman out, walking her from the car, which was wedged up against the counter, to the sidewalk outside the business. They didn't say much to each other.
He and Harvey then turned their attention to Grider, still standing near the counter.
"She had no easy way to leave the building because the car had trapped her by the register, forming a triangle with the counter and the wall. The front of the car was the hypotenuse," Basi said, describing the chaotic scene.
Basi said a woman from the nail salon on the other side of Subway "scrambled on top of the car and was able to help lift her up and on to the counter. Me and the man who works at Subway were able to pick her up. We all walked out and stayed out," Basi said.
Basi then went to his own store and retrieved a fire extinguisher as a precaution.
There was no fire but there was plenty of powdery smoke in the business, likely from the drywall and the furniture being pulverized, said Champaign Fire Lt. Dorval Norwood.
"From our vantage, (the damage) appeared to be cosmetic," Norwood said. "There were no structural membranes hit. Only the front framework which holds the window and door was hit by the vehicle. Everything else was tables and drywall inside the facility."
Norwood said Triandis was shaken but did not require hospital treatment. He said he didn't speak to her to find out what may have happened.
But those who saw the damage marveled that no one was physically harmed.
Harvey said just minutes before the accident, a group of several children about ages 8 to 12 had finished their lunches and cleared out of the shop. They were sitting right where the car traveled on its path into the counter.
"How nobody got hurt is really amazing," added Grider.
Basi said he and his employees initially couldn't figure out what they had heard.
"We thought somebody was moving something large like a soda machine and it fell. It was a tremendous impact. I was shocked that the car had driven all the way in the store. It didn't stop until she had driven into that counter. My immediate thought was, 'Wow. No skid marks on the sidewalk, no skid marks in the store,'" Basi said.
Basi said the public health inspector came by to check out Subway, which was boarded up and closed after the accident. She also stopped to chat with him. His business remained open and was fine, although he was a little concerned about the wall he shares with Subway.
Norwood said Ameren came to make sure there were no problems with gas leaks. He said no utilities were affected by the collision. All food out in the open in the business, he said, was thrown out because of the exposure to drywall and broken furniture dust.
"Nothing except the items in the freezer would have been salvageable," Norwood said.
Basi, who's been open four years, said he's never seen anything quite like what he saw Saturday. Despite the crowd of onlookers, he didn't do a lot of business.
"With all the activity in the parking lot, it certainly slowed things down," he said.
Daniels said because the accident happened on private property, Triandis would not receive a traffic ticket.