Business Editor

Rock Hill car dealer sends water to help West Virginia

dworthington@heraldonline.comJanuary 12, 2014 

It didn’t take Claude Burns, owner of Burns Cadillac Chevrolet in Rock Hill, long to say it wasn’t a story.

“It’s not that big of a deal,” he said before a question was barely asked. “It’s what God expects me to do.”

But because of Burns’ kindness, hundreds of residents in Charleston, W.Va., are doing the simple things we take for granted. They are drinking water, they are cooking, they are washing dishes.

They are enjoying the simple things because Burns sent the water. Lots of water. More than 3,000 gallons of bottled water on two trucks to West Virginia residents.

More than 300,000 Charleston residents and others in the Kanawha Valley haven’t been able to drink the local water, prepare food with water, or even bathe since last Thursday when the Elk River was contaminated by a chemical spill.

The chemical – 4-methycyclohexanemethanol – is used in the coal cleaning process. Those who make the chemical and the experts charged with setting safety standards when it’s accidentally released admit they don’t know when it will be safe the drink the water.

The level of the chemical in the river is decreasing but no definite date has been set for people to use the river’s water.

The lack of potable water “changes everything you do,” said John Knight, general sales manager for Joe Holland Chevrolet in Charleston.

Without water, restaurants are closed. The closest open restaurant is 20 miles away, Knight said. Some hope to open soon once their plans to bring clean, hot water to their facilities are approved by health officials.

Without water, hotels are closed.

Without water, even the operations at Yeager Airport were in jeopardy, though airport administrators have been able to keep most flights flying.

Without water, consumer spending on things such as cars is far from everyone’s mind.

Life as most know it in the Kanawha Valley has come to a standstill – again. In June 2011 a wind storm slammed the valley and residents were without power for 13 days.

When Burns heard the news about spill he, too, wondered how long it would be until it was safe to use the water.

But Burns did more than wonder.

He purchased 13 pallets of bottled water, leased two trucks and called Joe Holland Chevrolet. His dealership and the Charleston dealership have never done business before. The only thing they have in common is Chevys. From what Burns could tell, the dealerships were of similar size. He employs 90 people. Joe Holland has 150 people on the payroll.

Burns loaded the trucks on Friday, promising they would get to Charleston early Saturday afternoon.

Just the news that someone cared so much as to send water was uplifting, Knight said. Burns’ unexpected generosity was a “bright spot out of nowhere,” he said.

Originally, the plan was to distribute the water to the dealership’s employees and their families.

But Joe Holland officials decided they would have more than enough water for their families’ needs, so they posted on the dealership’s Facebook page that they would be distributing water.

People soon arrived at the dealership Saturday. They were told to come back in the afternoon.

The anticipated arrival was 1 p.m. The truck didn’t arrive.

Then it was 1:30, then 2 and still no trucks. A call was made. The truck drivers had not factored the steepness of West Virginia roads when estimating their travel times. The water-laden trucks were in low gear, crawling up the inclines at 25 mph or less.

When they arrived the water was quickly unloaded. Two salesman started handing out cases of bottled water. “You could tell they really enjoyed helping other people,” Knight said.

“This will lift us up and help us get through this,” he said.

News of Burns’ gift has spread. Knight has a sister who works as a dispatcher for a trucking company. Her boss has trucks and she’s hoping to find other like-minded business owners in Wilmington, N.C., where she works and have then replicate Burns’ generosity.

Told of the West Virginians reaction, Burns simply said, “I’m humble.” But he continued to protest, saying it was not a story.

That’s the only point where Knight disagrees with the man who extended a helping hand to him and others in need.

“This is the kind of story you need to tell,” Knight said.

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066 • dworthington@heraldonline.com

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