SILER CITY — Colin Hsieh’s lunchtime craving for a cheeseburger took him to Johnson’s Drive-In last Friday afternoon.
The 18-year-old initially drove from his family’s home in town to stop into a grocery store in Siler City.
“I was going to get some groceries to make my own lunch,” he told the News + Record, “but I changed my mind last minute.”
Hsieh parked at Johnson’s on East Eleventh Street, ordered from the walk-up window and was sitting against a brick ledge at Johnson’s, waiting for his food, when a white SUV sped toward him.
Siler City police say the car, driven by 60-year-old John Salvatore Graviano of Siler City, was traveling west on East Eleventh — U.S. Hwy. 64 — and crossed the center line and collided with a vehicle making a left turn onto East Raleigh Street from East Eleventh. After hitting that vehicle, the report says, the SUV continued west on Hwy. 64, veered into incoming traffic and continued toward the restaurant, crossing the east-bound traffic lanes before entering the east side of the parking lot of Johnson’s.
The car then struck four customers — Hsieh among them — who were gathered around waiting for their orders at Johnson’s, then collided with the building.
One of those struck, 64-year-old Mark McKinney, a Pittsboro resident and the pastor of a Morrisville church, died at the scene. Hsieh and two others — Diannne Perkins, 77, of Burlington, and Shannon Clapp, 39, of Siler City — were injured.
Perkins, who was standing next to Hsieh at the restaurant, was airlifted from the scene to UNC Hospitals, according to reports; Hsieh — who suffered a broken fibula and fractured ankle — and Clapp were taken to UNC as well with minor injuries.
“I became aware of the car approaching when I simply looked up and there it was, heading toward me,” Hsieh remembered on Monday. “In the moment, I was actually in little pain, due to the adrenaline I imagine. However, once the adrenaline rush wore off it was pain like I had never experienced before.”
He described the aftermath of the accident as “insane.”
“The damage done to the restaurant blew my mind,” said Hsieh, who’s home-schooled by his parents I-Sah and Lindsay.
Carolyn Routh, Johnson’s Drive-In’s third-generation manager, was the only person inside of the business who saw the car come through the wall.
“It was just an absolute shock,” she said. “Who would ever think that a car is going to drive into their restaurant like that, and then knowing how many people were injured and that somebody lost their life? It’s devastating.”
McKinney’s death was announced on a Facebook post on the page of New Life Church in Morrisville.
“It is with great sadness that we share this news on behalf of the McKinney family and New Life Church, that our Senior Pastor, Pastor Mark, passed away yesterday in a tragic accident that happened in Siler City, NC,” the post read. “The life that he lived impacted everyone around him. He was an amazing husband to Pastor Dee, father to Pastor Matt and Cara, and Grandpa to four grandchildren. He was a great friend, teacher, Pastor, and mentor to hundreds of people.
“He finished strong and he never quit. He fought the good fight of faith and stepped over to Heaven with joy. He won the crown that was laid up for him!!
“As you may know, we are all in shock right now. Please continue to love, support, and care for his wife, Pastor Dee. We are looking to God and reflecting on what Pastor Mark would tell us to do in this situation. Thank you for your love, patience, and understanding during this difficult time.”
A celebration of life service for McKinney will be held at New Life Church at 1 p.m. Saturday and live-streamed on Facebook and YouTube.
According to the church’s website, Mark McKinney and his wife are founding pastors.
With fairly severe damage to the front of the building, Routh said she’s not sure yet how long permanent repairs will take. On Monday, Johnson’s secured a contractor for repairs and started the process of getting building permits in place. After a visit from a structural engineer, it seems Johnson’s will be able to open up before permanent repairs are in place — possibly as early as next Tuesday.
The business is working on putting barriers in place to section off an area where customers stand and across the front of the building, in the unlikely event this type of event happen again.
“It hasn’t happened in 75 years, but it did happen,” Routh said. “And because of that, we don’t want people to be afraid to come up here, and we want to make sure our customers and employees are protected as much as we can protect them.”
Siler City Police Chief Mike Wagner told the News + Record that the case is still under investigation. Other charges may be filed, and the direct cause of crash is still unknown.
Graviano was arrested by the Siler City Police Department on Saturday and charged with misdemeanor death by vehicle. He was placed under a $1,000 secured bond at the Chatham County Detention Center and also charged with failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident and driving left of center.
Siler City Police and Fire Departments, as well as First Health EMS, and members of the N.C. Highway Patrol, responded to the scene on Friday.
Routh said “all those folks were really great,” and helped make everyone on the scene feel safe after such a horrible accident.
“The thing that makes it the worst is knowing that the people injured were our customers or friends ... that they were injured at our restaurant on our property, it’s a very helpless feeling,” she said. “The comments that we’ve gotten on Facebook, text messages, phone calls, with people saying that they were praying and offering their support have been very overwhelming. I really appreciate that, and I would ask for continued prayers for the families of the victims, and everybody who was affected.”
Hsieh said used a bystander’s phone — his had been shattered by the impact — to call his parents. They immediately called his younger sister Darcy, who was shopping in Siler City and arrived just minutes later.
“In the days since, I’ve reflected on a lot,” Hsieh said. “What I’ve reflected on mostly is how if I had done just about anything else in my day I probably wouldn’t be answering these questions. But also how lucky I was to only break my leg and how fortunate I am to even have my leg at all right now.”
His father, I-Sah, said Colin told him he’d been sitting on the corner of the brick wall at Johnson’s that took the direct impact from the car — a part of the building that’s no longer there.
“How he got away with just a broken leg and fractured ankle is nothing short of a miracle and we truly thank God for sparing our son,” I-Sah Hsieh said.