Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — Malt Shop employee Cynthia Shorts hugs owner Gloria Neames after a SUV plowed into the front of the restaurant Sunday afternoon. The crash left the employees that were working in the restaurant in shock.

Archived Story

Car crash sends one vehicle into house, another into Malt Shop

Published 2:40pm Sunday, October 7, 2012

NATCHEZ — The Malt Shop owner Gloria Neames stood in disbelief — and surely experienced a bit of déjàvu — as the sight of her beloved Natchez restaurant in shambles brought tears to her eyes Sunday afternoon for the second time in less than two years.

The Malt Shop, which has filled generations of Natchez stomachs with sweet, calorie-filled treats, became the unintended parking lot for a Dodge Durango just after 2 p.m.

The vehicle crashed into the restaurant after it had rear-ended another vehicle at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. and Homochitto streets. The impact sent the second car crashing into a house across the street, where Joan McLemore resides. McLemore was not home at the time of the accident.

For more photos from Sunday’s crash, click here.

The driver of the other car, Amanda Davis, 21, was taken to the hospital via ambulance complaining of neck and back pain. The passenger of that car, Kiara Grinnell, 23, was also taken to the hospital.

Neither woman had been admitted to either local hospital as of Sunday evening.

Four Malt Shop employees were inside the restaurant when employee Jessica Harrison spotted the SUV speeding toward them.

“I didn’t know it was going hit us; it just happened so fast,” said Harrison, from a perch on the ground near the debris shortly after the crash. “We’re just all very shaken up.”

Harrison and the other employees were able to leave the building in time, suffering only minor cuts and scrapes.

Natchez Police officer Carell Singleton said at the scene that a witness along the path of the Dodge Durango reported seeing the vehicle run a red light at the corner of Franklin and Martin Luther King Jr. streets, going at a high rate of speed.

Witnesses and The Malt Shop employees said the Durango kept traveling after hitting the other vehicle, crashing into the Malt Shop without slowing.

Employee Erica Prater said she really was puzzled by the whole incident.

“It didn’t even look like (the driver) was trying to stop, she just kept going,” Prater said.

The Durango’s driver, Estella Drew, 77, of Natchez, was uninjured after crashing into The Malt Shop, but does not remember any of the incident, she said at the scene.

The Malt Shop was struck by another vehicle in a late-night crash in July 2011.

Dwight Anthony Berry Jr. crashed a 1996 Cadillac Fleetwood into the restaurant then. Berry had reportedly swerved into the lane of an oncoming police car. The police car attempted to pull Berry over and Berry accelerated, crashing into the restaurant.

The exterior of the building and front part of the interior were destroyed in that crash, but Neames rebuilt and the classic Natchez favorite was reopened in less than a month.

A crowd of onlookers gathered at the scene Sunday, many stopping to snap pictures of the Durango inside the shop and to offer comfort and support to Neames.

Neames said she will rebuild, but it will be a much costlier and longer process this time.

The restaurant suffered more structural damage in Sunday’s wreck than it did last year, she said.

“How can I not rebuild?” Neames said. “But I can tell you, this time the damage is much more extensive.”

The crash last year cost approximately $35,000 in damages to The Malt Shop, but this time she said it would be much more than that.

“We had really just gotten things back to normal, and to have it happen again, I’m just devastated, devastated,” she said wiping tears from her eyes. “But my main concern was that my girls were OK. I have the best employees in the world, and I thank God they’re all right.”

Neames said the restaurant would be closed for at least a month. Equipment, including freezers, was damaged and will need to be repaired or replaced.

Neames bought The Malt Shop from James Ellis in 2004.

Records on file at the Historic Natchez Foundation show that The Malt Shop was originally a Dairy Queen and was in operation as late as 1953 on 104 Homochitto St.

By 1955, the Dairy Queen had moved to the current location of The Malt Shop, 4 Homochitto St.

The Dairy Queen eventually became The Malt Shop as late as 1963, though the Historic Natchez Foundation doesn’t have the records on the business from 1961 or ’62.

  • http://www.facebook.com/eilandhall Isaac Eiland-Hall

    Need to get some of those barriers they use to protect military facilities. :-( I have many fond memories of the Malt Shop from my visits to Natchez (family there)… People keep trying to destroy it before I can come back! D’oh. Best of luck to the owners.. AGAIN. <3

  • http://twitter.com/mrgoss Robert Goss

    wild …any wood left from the bench out front

  • Anonymous

    I’d think the insurance company would spring for that

  • Lydia Hill

    Wow, I cannot believe this. Not again. Thank God everyone will be okay. I miss that place and hopes this never happens again.

  • Anonymous

    Considering two people were sent to the hospital their car probably totaled a shop and a house run through by Estela I doubt everyone’s ok

  • Anonymous

    Poles need to be cemented in the ground across the front of the Malt Shop to prevent this from happening again…. I am thankful no one was killed. Hope and pray owner can get business rebuilt, and re opened soon…. Glad employees saw the speeding SUV headed toward them and had the chance to escape serious injury! Wonder what was wrong with the elderly lady driving the SUV???

  • Anonymous

    One things wrong, she has a drivers license!

  • Wesley

    Everyone is ignoring the obvious here. 70 year old people need to have a doctors note and a retest every time they get their license renewed. Can’t see, can’t hear, can’t walk? Well then you can’t drive either.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1585705255 Kathy Dodge

    I’m glad the employees were able to escape safely! Maybe it’s time for the Malt Shop to change locations?

  • Anonymous

    I hope they make sure to salvage some of that infamous picnic table top poking up in the picture. I have my name in it from sixth grade! Love the Malt Shop and glad no one was seriously hurt. They must rebuild, it’s not an option because it’s a Natchez icon !

  • Anonymous

    The picnic table was ruined in the previous wreck and a new one was put there. Your name has been gone since then.

  • Anonymous

    Look at pics closely, looks like they broke in the middle. Need a shorter table to re-use those boards.

  • Anonymous

    Who wants to take bets on insurance?

  • Anonymous

    Exactly, Wesley. In several European countries, it is the law that after you hit a certain age you must be re-tested every year(or more), and one of the tests gives an indication of your reflexes and responce time. Not being mean- we all KNOW that our reflexes slow down as we age, and not just our physical but our mental, too. It just seems like common sense to test.
    And on that note, I feel it is FAR TOO EASY to get a drivers licence. The test should last at least 30 minutes, and all sorts of testing should be done to observe the driver and his ability to perform in a safe manner. JMO.

  • Anonymous

    I have been informed ( by a person with good knowledge) that the erecting of such posts- by the city, at least- is illegal. Why? It poses a threat to drivers!!!! That’s right!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000448814812 Ashley Friloux

    I’m a little confused. There are many comments about the age of the lady who was hit (and who subsequently hit a house), and it seems that you all think she was in the wrong just because of her age. It seemed from the story that she wasn’t doing anything wrong! Why are you all fussing about her? Ya’ll should be ashamed. It was the stupid kids who did this, not the elderly lady!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000448814812 Ashley Friloux

    My mistake! After re-reading the story I see that I had it backwards. :(

  • Anonymous

    This is unbelievable… People of advanced age do need to be checked to make sure they can safely drive. I hate to see those who need to drive to get around have to go through this but regardless of who is behind the wheel it can still cause people to be seriously injured or even killed. However at their age things happen without warning so even that will not be fail proof. I do not know what the answer is to the Malt Shop. I love this place but putting up poles will only eliminate the already limited parking. Moving is not always a good idea due to the expense and sometimes it hurts the business. Many have moved for various reasons and then closed the doors within a year.
    I am glad no one was seriously hurt but it does worry me. this is twice and who is to say that if it happened again someone wouldn’t be seriously hurt or worse. This is definitely not an easy fix.

  • Anonymous

    Indeed. Ultimately it is about drive response times and motor skills. I read a study a few years back that showed a drunk 30 year old had better response time and control than a sober 70 year old.

  • Waterbourne

    WHY? someone ask the question, Why. Why was this woman speeding, running red lights, crashing into other cars and businesses? This is not normal even for a 77 year old. Mental disorders, Booze, What? Speeding in the downtown area has been a problem for years now. NPD please do something about the speeeding downtown!

  • Anonymous

    And further, my OWN family went through the “driving issue” with my grandmother. It was obvious to us- but not to HER- that she was no longer able to operate her vehicle safely. So we ALL had to make the decision. She didn’t like it AT ALL, at first. It took away some of her independance. But she slowly realized what we had been telling her was true. Was it a pain and an inconvenience to take her places? Yes…at first. But then I realized what a wonderful time I was having by picking her up and running her around town. We got to talk a LOT more, and she was more FUN and INTERESTING than ever before! So , in the end, we were NOT hampered by taking the responsibility of getting an elderly family member around. It was sheer joy, and I miss those days. So, if anyone is thinking about their own parents or grandparents, and if the time has come to make the decision, do it! Enjoy the time together. And at the least, there is public transportation. Getting old/elderly tain’t all fun and care-free!

  • Anonymous

    I’ll take a 70 year old driver any day over a texting smoking drunk

  • Anonymous

    Tell that to the folks at the Malt Shop, the home-owner and those folks in the hospital. So injuries, property damage and death resulting from elderly drivers is somehow better than the same caused by drunks or people texting? I don’t know where you got the smoking thing. What an asinine comment.

  • Anonymous

    I will have to agree with you, but once you turn 75 and beyond, some may say earlier on, you should be tested regularly, 6 months to yearly, depending upon that person’s circumstances. While I’m nowhere near 70, by God’s grace, I’ll too see it, I must admit even for myself, though my independence would be a huge issue for me, if I’m not able to drive safely, due to AGE INDUCED mental or physical impairment, I must or should think of society at large, and not just myself. Sure, there are irresponsible drivers of all ages! That point can be argued into oblivion. But the elderly drivers situation must be fruitfully addressed and a solution yielded.

  • Anonymous

    The article says the driver of the Durango, 77 year old, Estella Drew, had been seen, or it was witnessed that this driver had been driving erratic before she got to the intersection of the Malt Shop. She had run a red light back towards Franklin and MLK. The way the article reads is that she rear-ended some other vehicles, once she got to the intersection of MLK and Homochitto. The Durango once it slammed into the back of one car, sent either that one or another into the house and it kept on into the Malt Shop. Ms. Drew says she doesn’t remember any of that occurring. I wonder if she remembered running the red light earlier, as a witness reported, according to the article?

  • Anonymous

    Ok, I see your response now. I got so busy typing. :)

  • Anonymous

    Instead of assuming it was the woman’s fault because she was 77, people should reserve judgement. That woman should be drug and alcohol tested AND have an MRI and CT scan of her brain. The fact that she seemed unaware she was driving at a high rate of speed and running red lights, hitting cars, and having no memory of it sounds suspiciously like a petit mal seizure, aka (an absence seizure.)

    A heretofore undiscovered brain tumor, a previous head injury or other illness could have caused such a seizure. Victims of these seizures have no memory of the seizure or what happened during it.

    I hope she’s all right. And I’m glad no one was hurt.

  • redusmfan

    Time for Ms. Estella Drew to quit driving obviously.

  • http://www.facebook.com/josh.smith.5070276 Josh Smith

    Did you see the picture with the original table in it?……. Guess not……

  • Anonymous

    That’s not the original table. Look at the splintered wood. A table from the 60′s would not have looked like that. Subject: [natchezdemocrat] Re: Car crash sends one vehicle into house, another into Malt Shop

  • Anonymous

    I am 65 you can have mine right now….no problem Teach…………

  • Anonymous

    Assuming it was the woman’s fault? It was her fault! It doesn’t matter if she had medical condition, or is she was drunk or on drugs. Driving is a responsibility and when you are behind the wheel you’re responsible for your vehicle end of story.

  • vilou09

    Im only 22, and I’ll have no probkem submitting to a 4 year test for the next couple of decades of my life. Then upon whatever age deems necessary, I’ll take more tests annually. I think that if you have no issues behind the wheel, you should be good!

  • Anonymous

    The top boards (at least several of them) of the original table were re-used on the replacement after the first incident, thus initials carved years before were preserved. I sat there the last time I ate there so this is first hand knowledge.

  • Anonymous

    Family and friends should be trying to keep tabs on Mrs Drew.. Saying that she does not remember may not be a true statements either.
    After a certain age, their motor skills should be in question,
    BUCKLE UP NATCHEZ,,,, MRS DREW WILL BE BACK ON THE ROAD.

  • Anonymous

    5ft steele bars in the front. That will be a good stopper.

  • Anonymous

    Poles could be installed near the picnic table to not obstruct the small parking lot in front….. It’s a no brainer……..

  • Anonymous

    People don’t realize how easily senior citizens can get their driver’s license renewed . It’s individuals with commercial licenses they are strict on . I took this older individual to get his regular license renewed a few years ago . He actually resided in a local nursing home but was due out in a few weeks . Because he was in a wheelchair I figured they would deny him . On the day I took him he decided to use his walker . He said it wouldn’t be a good idea to go in with a wheelchair but instead used a walker . When the receptionist at the Hwy dept. called his name he hobbled up to the counter . I sat there thinking , ” poor guy is going to get a big disappointment “. When they gave him his license I sat there with my mouth opened in disbelief . They didn’t test his eyes or nothing . He just paid his money and hobbled back to his car . If a senior citizen can walk on their own volition they’ll get their license renewed easily , even if they are using walkers . I’m beginning to think he would have gotten his license even in a wheelchair . A senior would actually have to fall down out there in order to be denied license renewal . I saw the person several times since , holding up traffic or barely driving the speed limit . I thought to myself , “OMG ! what have I done ! ” Please stay off the road Mr. Dave !

  • LdyBreez

    worker from the Malt Shop said she does have insurance.

  • i2bdun

    I think southernkid was referring to POT SMOKING! I agree with in on all 3 counts. Texting or even reading texts is dangerous as all-get-out now! (as is eating, turning your head to talk, etc.) Pay attention to the road folks!

  • i2bdun

    How did they get away with putting up those guard rails in front of the house on Homochitto St. after a car (or 2) plummeled into it?

  • i2bdun

    Hazard pay for employees! They are more apt to be run over than robbed!

  • Anonymous

    The city or owners of this business needs to have a reinforced barricade in front of their business . Something that’s able to stop a car in its tracks . Maybe a couple of those large concrete slabs used by MDOT on the high ways in Natchez . This is extraordinarily dangerous for the workers/patrons there . It’s by the grace of God that no one was killed in both crashes . I hate to be the pessimist but this is too much like Russian roulette . It’s just a matter of time before something deadly happens as a result of these crashes into that business .

  • Anonymous

    Maybe they can get a grant for an overpass like the one at Lynda Lee/61!

  • Anonymous

    It also could have been hypoglycemia too. No telling what it was, but lab tests at the time of the accident can rule it all out.

  • Anonymous

    At 77 years old, a claim like this will cause her to probably be cancelled and that will end her driving – or will it? Subject: [natchezdemocrat] Re: Car crash sends one vehicle into house, another into Malt Shop

  • “THEMAN”

    I LOVE OLD PEOPLE REALLY I DO BUT I HAVE SEEN MANY ACCIDENTS WHERE THEY AIM FOR THE BRAKES AND END UP SMASHING ON THE GAS…