The co-owner of Carmalita’s Cuisine said the popular Heights restaurant typically is crowded with customers until 2 p.m. The owner of the building at the northeast corner of 11th Street and Studewood Street said two men were scheduled to be standing on a scaffold Wednesday afternoon, painting the roof above the eatery, but they couldn’t make it to work.
Had they been there as planned, building owner Tracey Conwell said, they would have been stationed right where a pickup truck crashed through the wall of the restaurant a little after 1:30 p.m. And there happened to be no customers in the dining room, much of which was reduced to rubble as the truck’s engine caught fire and some of the building’s interior was burned.
“That’s God working in mysterious ways,” Conwell said.
Houston Police Department spokesman John Cannon said Friday that the driver of the gray Toyota Tacoma with a camper on the back was 28-year-old William Cline, who according to Cannon sustained minor injuries and was transported to a nearby hospital. Cannon said Cline likely would be cited for failing to maintain a single lane.
Cannon said Cline was traveling north on Studewood and that a witness told police he drifted across his lane before hitting the restaurant.
“(Cline) admitted to taking some prescription medication,” Cannon said. “When our officers went to the hospital, they didn’t detect any slurred speech while at the hospital or any visible signs of intoxication.”
Carmalita’s co-owner John Batiste and two employees for Elijah Rising, a nonprofit with an office above the restaurant, said no one associated with their businesses was injured. Batiste said he and two of his employees were the only ones in his restaurant at the time, and none was near the brick wall that was destroyed.
“I don’t know if (the driver) dozed off or fell asleep or whatever, but he came straight through the brick wall full speed,” Batiste said. “My thing is just make sure nobody was hurt, and everybody’s safe. I got hit on the knee with a brick, but it could have been a lot worse.”
Batiste said he hadn’t yet given much thought to the future of his restaurant, which opened in January and is named after his wife, Carmalita, who was not there Wednesday. The restaurant specializes in organic, gluten-free dishes and pastries.
Batiste expressed relief that the crash damaged only a structure and not any bystanders, and he thanked the Houston Fire Department for their prompt response as well as the community members and nearby business employees who rushed over to offer assistance and water.
Elijah Rising communications director David Gamboa said the nonprofit also is displaced at least temporarily. He said firefighters drilled a hole through their wooden floor while extinguishing the blaze in the restaurant below.
“We don’t have an office (now), and the electricity’s off, so we’re trying to help (the restaurant) find a place to put their food,” Gamboa said.
Gamboa said other adjacent businesses, including apparel and clothing store Power Love Rage, likely were impacted because smoke from the engine fire filled the entire building. He said the “whole building shook” upon impact from the truck.
All of the building’s inhabitants, though, appeared to have made it through the ordeal OK.
“Everybody was in the right place at the right time,” Batiste said. “God willed it to happen, so I’m sure he’s going to make good out of it.”