COLUMBIA — John Pham, who co-owns and operates Bangkok Gardens at 811 Cherry St., has a long to-do list for the coming days. He's going to finish a biannual deep cleaning of the kitchen and wants to donate the food he won't be using to the food bank. Come to think of it, the restaurant could use a little sprucing up, too, he said.
"I've been dying for a second coat of paint," Pham said.
He should have plenty of time to get through the list, thanks to a sport utility vehicle that crashed through Bangkok Gardens' front windows at 2:37 a.m. Saturday. Pham said his business will be closed for a while. He joked that at least his wife was happy to be able to spend a Saturday night with him, for a change.
As of Monday afternoon, Columbia Police Sgt. Timothy Moriarity said officers were close to tracking down the SUV's driver, whose name has not been released.
Witnesses described the vehicle and gave officers a license plate number, which police tracked to an address. When they went to the house, a woman living there said her son was driving the car in question Friday night.
"We're pretty positive we have the vehicle and the driver," Moriarity said.
Moriarity said he couldn't specify any charges the suspect might face because the case is still undergoing investigation. Possible charges could be placed at the city and state levels, he said.
Pham found out about the crash from Columbia police a couple of hours after he left work at 12:30 a.m. on Saturday. Police asked him to come back to the restaurant.
"There was glass everywhere, it looked like the mouth of a shark," Pham said. "I was like, ‘Whoa.'"
After talking to the officers, Pham said he learned the accident was a hit-and-run. He said he was relieved to hear that no one was hurt in the accident.
"Can you imagine if someone got squashed or killed?" Pham said.
The restaurant has cameras, and one was able to capture the incident, he said. The video shows a bright light from the vehicle, which can be seen driving off the curb and back onto the road after hitting the building.
"It took a lot of nerve to pull away from this and leave it," said John Ott, who owns the building.
The bicycle rack in front of the restaurant was knocked over, and the metal pillar between the broken front windows was bent. Luckily, Pham said, the pillar stopped the vehicle from going farther into the restaurant. Without it, there would have been a "car show" in the middle of the dining area, he said.
"We don't have a drive-through window, people," Pham joked.
Pham said he was relieved when he found out that insurance will be able to take care of business losses and lost employee wages. The restaurant will be closed for three or four more days but will re-open as soon as possible.
Pham has a true chef's outlook on the accident: "We're going to make lemonade out of all these lemons."