Steven Ortiz had only seen what happened Tuesday night at Gia’s Pizza in downtown O’Fallon on TV.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” the O’Fallon resident said after a car crashed into the booth where he and his family was sitting around 7 p.m. Tuesday. “It was very fast and very scary.”
In a matter of moments, a building that is billed as O’Fallon’s oldest was severely damaged by the three-vehicle crash. Gia’s is located at 102 W. State in O’Fallon’s historic downtown area. A sign on the front of the building says it is the oldest still intact building in downtown O’Fallon. It was erected in 1863 by Levi Simmons to replace an earlier one that was destroyed by fire on the site. Over the years, the building has housed a general store, saloon, hotel, post office, grocery, bus station and restaurant. It has been home to Gia’s for the last nine years.
Employees with the restaurant said around 30 people were in the establishment at the time of the crash.
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Stephen Grider of O’Fallon was heading north through the intersection of Lincoln and State when he said he was T-boned by a vehicle driven by a woman that was driving westbound on State.
“She hit the side of me and continued to accelerate,” Grider said. “She pushed past me and then hit a car that was going south on Lincoln and was stopped at the stop sign. She pushed through them and went straight into the building. Once she hit the building, the accelerator was still winding. I jumped out of the car. Me and the manager of the gym next door (CrossFit Voyage) pulled her out of the car. She looked like she was in total shock.”
Grider estimated that the woman’s car was going at least 35 mph when it hit the building.
“I heard her tell police that instead of braking (at the four-way stop at the intersection) that she hit the accelerator,” Grider said.
When the car hit the building, it went through three separate levels of bricks. Waiting on the other side of the wall was Ortiz and his family, which included two teenaged children.
“I heard two vehicles hitting, and I heard some screeching,” he said. “Obviously during an accident you only hear the screeching for a very short amount of time, but it was very prolonged. The screeching went on for quite a while. The second vehicle hit and the booth just went flying.”
A pile of bricks and rubble pushed into the restaurant. The seats of the booth where the Ortiz family was sitting was pushed a good 10 feet into the middle of the dining room.
An O’Fallon police officer at the scene said both people injured in the incident suffered minor injuries.
A manager at the restaurant did not know how long the business would be closed. It was forced to close for the night following the crash. It did not appear the building had much structural damage other than the hole in the east wall of the building.
The O’Fallon Gia’s is one of two locations, the other one being located in Oakville, Mo. Gia’s has been in operation since 2007.