Woman crashes car into wall at SouthPark, causing incident
CHARLOTTE -- Rod Hodnett was on a SouthPark mall parking deck Thursday when he saw a green Hyundai sedan stuck on a curb.
Hodnett said he tried to help the older woman inside move the car. When he reached for the door handle, he said, she clutched her chest.
But before he could open the door, "she just went like a rocket," Hodnett said. "She just came off and hit the wall and the entire thing collapsed."
The woman was pronounced dead at the deck shortly after the 12: 15 p.m. wreck between Nieman Marcus and Nordstrom. She was identified by a police report as 64-year-old Shirley Sutton Hawkins with no address listed, according to the Associated Press.
The deck's collapse stranded close to 100 shoppers for hours and forced authorities to shut down surrounding south Charlotte roads. About 25 drivers of cars closest to the collapse had to find other ways home because authorities didn't know if the area was safe.
The collapse punctuated what had been a typical holiday shopping day at the largest mall in the Carolinas. Shoppers across the area got phone calls from friends and family who saw video from news helicopters.
A SouthPark spokeswoman was unsure whether parts of the deck would be open today. The mall never closed and will keep normal hours.
But Hodnett, who had planned a day of shopping with his wife Thursday, never went inside.
He said he rushed to the car after the crash, and the woman was slumped forward. The airbag had deployed and the woman was wearing a seat belt, Hodnett said, but she appeared unconscious.
Paramedics said it was unclear whether she died from the impact of the crash or from a medical emergency.
The collapsed section of the parking deck, about the width of three parking spaces, fell into the second level, crushing at least two cars below. No other injuries were reported, said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police spokesman Officer Robert Fey.
Officers blocked off parts of Fairview Road to allow access for emergency vehicles. The closing delayed some school buses but the road reopened at about 3:45 p.m., before rush hour.
Stacy Watson said she came out of the mall after doing some holiday shopping and saw fire trucks and news cameras and learned that she wouldn't be allowed to retrieve her car. "I can see it," she said, "but I just can't get to it."
Around 2 p.m., she gave up on getting to her car promptly, and phoned a neighbor for a ride home.
Inside the mall, shoppers continued shopping for the holidays and visiting Santa.
Many visitors credited their cell phones for the order. Friends and relatives watching the news or following the story online called shoppers with updates. Kristin Sexton, 28, said talking to her husband helped reassure her that the accident was a random incident, a day after eight people were killed in a shooting at a mall in Omaha, Neb.
As first responders worked outside, stores inside played holiday music while visitors ate lunch. Some said they were staying put because of traffic slowdowns and road closures.
The only grumbles came when shoppers parked on the deck asked mall security guards how they could get back to their cars. Reubin Nesbitt and his wife, Renell, both of Fort Mill, roamed outside while awaiting word on their car.
Reubin Nesbitt said Thursday was his first time at SouthPark, there at his wife Renell's urging to pick out her Christmas gifts. Renell Nesbitt said she'll return because of all of SouthPark's offerings.
"It's a freak accident," she said.
At about 2:45 p.m. mall security directed about 60 questioners to the first-floor shoe department at Nordstrom to wait for a police escort to their cars. Most were gone by Thursday evening.
Etta Logan, an employee at nearby Rite-Aid who caught pieces of the day's events during her smoke breaks, said she was late to work because of the traffic around the mall.
She usually parks in the deck to keep people from denting her car in the Rite-Aid parking lot, which has more traffic.
"I don't think I'll be parking (in the deck) anymore," she said. "I'll just have to deal with the dings on the door."