When an SUV crashed through a hair salon and Greek deli, pinning a family of three to a wall in Columbia City on Thursday afternoon, a group of witnesses grabbed fire extinguishers from nearby restaurants and raced to pull out furniture and debris to free the people trapped inside.
“God worked a miracle today,” said the Rev. Don Davis, pastor of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Columbia City, marveling that no one was killed.
“We didn’t hesitate at all,” said Davis, who was among those who ran into the historic building on the southwest corner of Rainier Avenue South and South Ferdinand Street to help.
“It was black, white, all of us, just pulling stuff out. That’s how we do it in Columbia City — we stick together.”
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According to Seattle police, witnesses reported hearing the SUV’s engine revving just before it tore through the two businesses. Officers are investigating what caused the driver to lose control of the vehicle.
The SUV, driven by a woman in her 40s, was heading south on Rainier Avenue South just before 1:30 p.m. when it veered off the street and crashed into the Carol Cobb Salon and continued into The Grecian Delight deli next door, said Seattle Fire Department spokesman Kyle Moore.
A father, mother and their 10-year-old daughter who were eating at the deli were pinned between the front of the SUV and a wall, he said. Firefighters were able to extricate the family within 12 minutes and all three were taken to Harborview Medical Center in stable condition with minor injuries, Moore said.
In the salon, a boy, about 6 to 8 years old, suffered burns to his head and a woman was injured by falling debris, according to Moore. The child and woman were also taken to Harborview, and another woman inside the salon suffered minor injuries but wasn’t taken to the hospital.
The driver did not have any apparent injuries but was taken to Harborview to get checked out, Moore said.
The impact of the crash, which shattered windows and demolished walls, caused at least two large cracks at the building’s crown, raising concerns that the one-story building could collapse, Moore said. Firefighters wedged temporary metal support posts between the sidewalk and the storefront window frames to shore up the exterior walls.
Officials kept people from entering the building and left the SUV inside until city engineers could assess the extent of the structural damage, Moore said.
Built in 1905 by H. Harlow A. Hastings, who served as town attorney and mayor before Columbia City was annexed by Seattle in 1907, the building at 4901 Rainier Ave. S. once housed a post office and later, a grocery store, according to the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods website.
The building is part of the Columbia City Historical District, which was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and roughly runs along Rainier Avenue South between South Alaska and South Hudson streets.
Moments after Thursday’s crash, an off-duty firefighter used a fire extinguisher from a nearby restaurant to put out flames coming from under the SUV, then went to help the trapped family, said Moore, the Fire Department spokesman.
Davis and other witnesses said they used fire extinguishers to break the SUV’s windows to rescue two young girls inside the vehicle. But the children weren’t treated by medics and Moore could not confirm the witnesses’ accounts.
Davis, a longtime resident of the neighborhood who knows the salon’s owner, said the boy injured in the salon was with his mother, who was there applying for a job.
Stacey Hettinger, who owns Geraldine’s Counter, a restaurant kitty-corner from the damaged building, estimated that the SUVwas going 50 to 60 mph right before the crash.
“I’m just a little shaken up,” she said, her eyes welling with tears as she surveyed the damage across the street from her business. “She was going way too fast … I knew that car was going to hit.”
Hettinger grabbed a fire extinguisher and with seven or eight of her male customers, ran to the building. She couldn’t see flames because of all the dust and debris, but smelled the smoke. She and the others began throwing furniture and bits of the destroyed walls and ceiling into the street.
Srilakshmi Remala, her 10-week-old son in a car carrier, was having lunch with a friend at Geraldine’s when the crash happened.
“I heard the screeching of the tires and the loud boom … and I immediately jumped up” as others ran out the door to help, Remala said. “You know when seconds feel like minutes? People ran from here and started pulling stuff into the street before the ambulances came.
“There were definitely some heroes here in the restaurant,” she said.