CBS 3 Investigates The Hidden Epidemic Of Storefront Crashes
By Jessica Dean
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- We've all seen surveillance videos of out-of-control cars going right into stores hitting customers and employees, even killing them. You might think storefront crashes are flukes. But some experts say, they're not. They're happening every day at an alarming rate.
An estimated 60 times a day, researchers say, a driver strikes a building. Cars can come from anywhere. They fly off the road or through a parking lot, or the car pulls into a parking space right outside the front and doesn't stop.
That happened at Deja Vu Consignment in Toms River in 2012. A driver trying to park crashed through the front door. Owner Kim Spalletta was inside.
"I was standing in the showroom fixing some racks, and all of a sudden, a car came crashing through the window, and it missed me by a few feet," she said. "You don't know if the car's going to stop or if it's going to keep coming in."
"These parking spaces, when they face a building, they remind me of a loaded gun," said Mark Wright. In 2008, a car hit Wright inside a Maryland 7-Eleven, ripping three of four knee ligaments.
"My surgeon said, 'This is the kind of injury we see coming back from Iraq or Afghanistan,'" Wright said.
Over the months of rehab, Wright wondered, "What is going on with this kind of accident? I started Googling."
What he found shocked him: hundreds of storefront crashes every year across the U.S., millions in property damage, people maimed and killed.
"These are real human beings that are being struck every single day," Wright said.
"There were more people getting killed in this kind of accident than there were in terrorist acts in the United States," said Rob Reiter.
Rob Reiter and Mark Wright stared the volunteer Storefront Safety Council after discovering no government agency was tracking these crashes. No one knew how widespread the problem is.
For the years 2013 and 2014, Reiter found media reports of 6,000 storefront crashes. He estimates the real number of crashes is more than triple that.
"You're at risk wherever you live, play, shop, eat dinner," Reiter said. "Look where you're eating your hamburger. There are safer places and less safe places, and you need to start paying attention."
Who's crashing into storefronts? Often drunk drivers, young drivers, or elderly people prone to mistaking the gas for the brake.
"All you need to do is install some sort of barrier," Reiter said.
Concrete pillars, otherwise known as a bollard, can stop a car. You see them all around, including at many Wawa stores. The company told Eyewitness News, "Since installing bollards, we have experienced a significant decline in the number of such incidents."
Back in Toms River, Kim reopened. She's a tenant in a strip mall. Cars still park right outside her front door. Does she worry about that?
"I do. When I hear a loud car or a truck, I think that it's going to come through the window," she said.
At the store where Mark was hurt, there are no bollards. Cars are still aimed at customers and employees.
"If you're going to have that, for crying out loud, protect them," Wright said.
Reiter, who consults for bollard manufacturers, says these crashes are almost always preventable. He says in these types of places, he avoids seats near the front door or at tables on the sidewalk.
Storefront Safety Council is at http://www.storefrontsafety.org/
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