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

Published 2:40 pm Sunday, October 7, 2012

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.

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.

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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.