COLUMBIA FALLS — November 12, 2020, is a night many Columbia Falls residents will never forget after a car smashed through the glass entrance doors into the Super 1 grocery store, leaving a trail of destruction and chaos behind.
Erin Shappell, the night manager on duty, suddenly found herself in charge of a dangerous and confusing situation with panicked customers trying to dodge the runaway driver. She recalled, “It still baffles me, it was God's hand all over it, I mean there’s no other way to explain it, people should have been hurt, people could’ve easily been killed."
One minute and 20 seconds - that’s how long a car barreled up and down the aisles inside the Super 1 grocery store as security video given to MTN News shows bewildered workers and customers running for their lives.
“Hit the first register and shoved it into the middle aisle and just going up and down the one aisle and turning around and coming back,” said Shappell.
Erin was 20 feet away from the sliding glass entrance when she knew something was very wrong. “Customers yelled that someone hit the doors, so I went around to see what was going on, and about the time I got almost to the second set of doors, the car was coming in through the second set,” Shappell recalled.
Erin and her coworkers took charge immediately, quickly ushering customers out of the store. “It’s like, okay, we need to get everybody out of here, don’t know what the situation is, they just needed to be in a safe space,” said Shappell.
Left behind was a scene straight out of a disaster movie, as Erin and her coworkers raced down the aisles looking to help anyone in distress.
“That was probably the most nerve-wracking part of it because we just didn’t know if anyone was injured, there were a lot of downed shelves and crushed shelves and it took us a little bit to go through and make sure that there was nobody under anything,” said Shappell.
Erin tells MTN News that once the store was cleared, dozens of residents called in wanting to help clean up the entire store. Incredibly, after all the chaos, they were back open for business by 7 a.m. the following morning.
“An hour after everything happened, I started getting phone calls from people in the area, other businesses wanting to know if they could come help and clean up, and once it was safe to do that people were just more than willing to come help us get situated,” said Shappell.
Super 1 Store Director Hope Renfro said Erin worked through the night cleaning the entire store, a true testament of her character and leadership abilities: “She goes above and beyond every day and on that night she definitely did,” said Renfro.
The man charged with driving the car, Alan Rodger Connor Jr., has pleaded guilty to felony charges of criminal mischief and criminal endangerment. He remains held in the Flathead County Detention Center with sentencing set foray 20.