ATLANTA, Ga. (CW69 News at 10) — Customers coming to the Piedmont Pointe Shopping Plaza on June 4, 2021, were surprised to see several businesses destroyed. “When I looked to my right and saw the burnt wood, I immediately thought, ‘Hopefully, no one was hurt,'” said Jimmy Rowe, who came to pick a prescription at a Walgreens there.

Georgia State Police say a car crashed into the building after 4 a.m., causing a fire that damaged several businesses. They say Theodore Merchant, 21, of Virginia Beach, was driving a white Porsche at over 100 miles per hour on the highway where I-75 and I-85 split. An officer attempted a traffic stop, but authorities say Merchant kept going. He eventually hit a concrete island at Cheshire Bridge and Piedmont Circle before crashing into the shopping center. Police took Merchant into custody and then to Grady Hospital for non-life threatening injuries.

“It’s such a tragedy, just because someone’s speeding. Just slow down,” said Nicole Thompson, who saw the smoke from her apartment across the street. “The alarms in my building started going off, so we had to evacuate. Simpson says she was a customer at Preferred Chiropractic at the shopping center. “They’re wonderful people, and they’re going to be out of business now for two months,” she said.

Crews started the cleanup process by late afternoon. The property owner at Riverwood Properties, which owns the shopping center, told CW69 there is at least $2 million in damage, but they plan to rebuild. She said the biggest challenge will be waiting for the city’s permitting process to play out.