Saturday, March 09, 2013 12:48 AM
Truck barrels into store; community pulls together
By Olivia Neeley | Times Staff Writer
Customers hovered, panic washed over their faces. The sight nearly took their breath away Friday morning.
"Are the babies, OK?” many asked as they stood outside of Aycock’s Crossing Gas & Grocery on U.S. 301 near Lucama. Business owners, Richard and Irania Nettey, usually have their children with them at the store. And the children, ages 2 and 3, are always playing in the area where a tractor-trailer cab had just barreled into the side of the building after running off the side of the road.
Minutes earlier Linda Holland saw that truck heading down U.S. 301 north Friday. And it was going fast, she said.
"The next thing I knew, he veered right off like he was coming to pull in,” she said. "The next thing I know he was coming into the store.”
Linda Holland froze in panic. She feared the worst. Her friend of many years, Renee Holland, was still inside.
"I jumped out,” she recalled. "I just knew she was dead.”
She also knew the children were often inside the store.
"I didn’t know if the kids were in there,” Linda said. "They’re always bringing the kids to work. And they are always in that corner, always. I was just saying, ‘Lord where are the kids? Where are the kids?’”
Linda said she was relieved when she found out the children hadn’t arrived at the store and her friend was not injured.
"We’ve lived here all our life,” she said. "Right here in this little circle. It’s a community.”
Linda said God was looking after them all Friday.
"Those kids are in there every day,” she said. "When he went, he went full force, no braking or nothing. There could have been some people killed.”
They were all lucky, she said.
DRIVER BLACKS OUT
Seventy-two-year-old truck driver, Shelton Campbell, had a diabetic reaction as he was driving north on U.S. 301 Friday, troopers said. Campbell, of South Carolina, blacked out and went off the road, hit a shallow ditch and continued to drive through the parking lot, said Trooper Jason Edwards. Campbell struck two vehicles, a minivan and BMW, pushing them through the store as well, he said.
Campbell, who had minor scratches, was transported to Wilson Medical Center for treatment, Edwards said. The truck driver was able to escape through the passenger’s side of the cab. No one else was injured.
Campbell was charged with failing to maintain lane control, troopers said.
Speed and alcohol were not involved, according to officials.
"It could have been worse,” Edwards said. "Luckily, no one was hurt.”
Troopers responded around 9:40 a.m.
‘IT HAPPENED SO FAST’
Renee Holland was inside the store when the crash happened, but was not injured. No customers were inside at the time of impact. Holland thought a shelf was falling but quickly found out it was much more. "Then everything started moving,” she said. "I had just walked out of the back storage room. It happened so fast. I was lucky.”
Renee Holland and her husband own the building. She often helps the Netteys.
"If they (the children) would have been here, they would have been dead,” Renee Holland said. "They stay in that corner right there.”
Customers, family and friends called it a miracle that no one was hurt, especially the children.
‘OH MY GOD’
Dozens of regular customers and community members chipped in, hauling off debris and merchandise from inside the store Friday. They wanted to help in the aftermath, including Jimmy Glen, who lives about a mile up the road from the store.
About a half hour before, Glen was distraught. He was on his way to the store to hang out and shop. As he got closer, the scene emerged. His hands began to shake. "I was nervous,” he said. "At the time, I was upset about the kids. That’s where the kids sit and watch TV.”
But once he found out no one was hurt, he said it was an answered prayer.
Firefighters who had worked the scene Friday stayed behind to help. They’re customers, too. One by one, people walked up to the shattered mess. Many were in disbelief at the sight before them.
Ricky Raper, who lives in Lucama, said he got a call from his sister and brother-in-law about what happened. Raper, who also frequents the store, said he couldn’t believe what his family told him Friday morning.
"There’s a truck in Richie’s store,” his family members told him over the phone. "A truck hit two cars and pushed them into the store.”
"You’ve got to be kidding me?” Raper told them.
He headed down to the store. When he saw the magnitude of damage, he was shocked.
"Oh my God,” he said. "Wow.”
Raper said he was surprised the driver of the truck lived.
"Because part of that beam went through the windshield,” he said.
Raper said God was watching over the children, Richie, the driver and others.
"Thank God,” he said.
‘MY HEART DROPPED’
Clarence Ellis, who lives in Johnston County, also walked up on the destructive scene Friday.
"The babies are OK, right?” Ellis hesitantly asked. He was worried, too.
When he saw the damage, he was scared the children were hurt.
"My heart dropped in my stomach,” he said. "I was almost crying when I got down here.”
Ellis stops by the store several times a week on his back from picking up parts nearby.
"I eat subs here all the time,” he said. "They’ve got the best subs. They’re so friendly. They talk to you just like family in there. I talk to him and his wife and play with the little kids.”
He said the Netteys are "beautiful people” and that it was blessing all were safe.
"It’s the hand the God,” he added.
OWNER WILL REBUILD
Owner Richie Nettey was on his way to Goldsboro to pick up drinks for the store Friday morning. He knew his wife and children had not made it to the store yet. But he worried about his landlord’s wife, Renee Holland.
"I was very grateful she wasn’t hurt,” he said. "That was the main thing.”
Nettey said Renee always helps them when they need an extra hand. He said the children stay with them in the store so they can save money on babysitting. Their daughter, Serenity, 3, and son, Gabriel, 2, usually stay in the corner where the truck hit Friday.
"I’m glad nobody was hurt,” he said. "It’s a miracle.”
Nettey said his wife and the kids are usually at the store by 9 a.m. But on Friday, his wife had called her mother, chatting longer than usual. He said Friday’s outpouring from the community touched he and his family deeply.
"They are wonderful,” he said about those helping volunteer to clean out the store. "That goes a long way. That lets me know I’m doing something right for the community. I know a lot of people are devastated.”
He said everyone stuck around to help him Friday, salvaging his products because they’re faithful customers.
"They know what I’m doing here,” Nettey said. "And they know how hard I’m trying to make this establishment. From what they tell me its never been this good. I pour everything I’ve got to make it.”
Nettey said Friday’s crash was just a minor setback.
"I’m going to rebuild,” he said. "If life was lost, it would have been a tragic thing. But no life was lost. Even if tragedy happens, we will keep moving forward. If we weren’t blessed, we would have been in there front and center. But God has blessed us. This is what makes us stronger. Being that the community is helping and supporting me, I know I will never fail.”
After Nettey finished those words, an elderly man walked up. He waited patiently as Nettey talked with others. The man looked worried.
"Brother, are you alright?” the man finally asked Nettey who told him everyone was fine. "You scared me to death.”
Agencies who responded to the scene included, Crossroads and Polly Watson Volunteer Fire Departments, Kenly Fire Department, Wilson County Sheriff’s Office, N.C. Department of Transportation, Wilson County Emergency Management and Wilson County EMS.
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