Only snacks injured in crash

Oh, thank heaven for 600-pound concrete trash cans.

An 86-year-old man took “drive-thru” to an almost unprecedented level on Sept. 21 when his vehicle plowed into the front of the 7-Eleven convenience store on Highway 20 next to Burger King.

The loyal customer reportedly confused the accelerator and the brake, a surprisingly common miscue.

“That happens, unfortunately,” said Oak Harbor Fire Chief Mark Soptich, whose department, along with the Oak Harbor Police Department, responded to the call at approximately 5:30 p.m.

Employee Stacy Martinez was in the back of the store preparing coffee when she heard the loud noise. A California native unfazed by seismic activity, she likened the sound to the outcome of tectonic plates getting intimate.

“It was really scary,” she said. “I didn’t actually see it happen.”

To the driver’s credit, he struck the building in the ideal spot. His vehicle slammed into a formidable concrete trash can outside the store, sending the car up onto the receptacle and putting an immediate halt to what could have been a tragic accident.

Martinez was the only person in the store. Surveying the damage and assessing the situation, her first concern was for the driver’s safety.

“He was suspended in the air in his car and I wasn’t going to let him out,” she said. “It looked like he was parked as usual. It was very strange.”

When the police and fire departments arrived, they were able to safely help the man out of his car. The driver emerged miraculously unscathed.

“He’s a regular customer,” said store owner Greg Wasinger. “He felt really bad.”

The surveillance video showed an extremely freak accident.

“It was interesting,” Wasinger said. “It all happened so fast.”

Martinez said the driver is a loyal customer and “a very nice man.”

“I know him,” she added. “I carry his groceries to his car for him. I was so happy he was okay. I went out and hugged him afterwards.”

The accident amazingly yielded more positives than negatives in terms of horrible and very plausible scenarios that were avoided. Had the car not struck the concrete garbage can, the vehicle could have made a beeline for Martinez in the back of the store.

“The garbage can acted as a bulkhead,” Wasinger said. “Otherwise the car would probably have gone all the way to the back of the store.”

Martinez, who was comforted by a fellow employee that night, has reflected on the incident over the past weeks. If she had begun the task she originally planned, even the garbage can would not have served as protection.

“I was on my way to wash those windows, but instead I made coffee in the back,” she said. “Somebody was definitely looking out for me.”

And as it turned out, the windows really didn’t need washing anyway.

Wasinger and his wife, Linda, have owned the two Oak Harbor stores for 31 years. The recent accident was not the first of its kind for the couple.

“About three years ago a young woman drove into our other store. It can happen to anybody,” he said, adding that 7-Elevens can be magnets for the unconventional parking jobs. “It’s something that happens in our stores.”

The longtime owner said the damage was not extensive. The boarded up windows should be replaced within the next week. He credited the police and fire departments with exemplary service.

“It was really, really nice the way they responded and helped,” he said.

Aside from ensuring that all potential victims were stabilized, the crews helped clean up glass and other debris.

“Our goal is to get them back in business,” Soptich said.

Martinez knows that Sept. 21, 2007 will be etched indelibly in her mind. She is equally aware that the date could have instead marked a tragic event, not only for her and the driver, but for countless Slurpees and Big Bites.

“I’m fine and he’s fine,” she said. “That’s what’s important. I’m so grateful for that trash can. I want to bow to it.”

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