STATEN ISLAND, NY – Only one word can describe how Paul Montella feels today.
On Friday, Montella, owner of Nucci’s Southern Italian restaurant and pizzeria, watched in horror as a car rolled into the storefront of his Richmond Valley business, narrowly missing customers – and his own son.
“It’s a miracle [no one inside] was injured,” Montella told Advance/SILive.com on Saturday. “I thank my late father and my late mother, I’m sure they had something to do with it up there [in heaven]because it’s the only thing that matters [to me], that everyone was fine. No one was hurt.”
The unidentified driver of the small SUV, which ABC 7 reported was a Ford, was treated at the scene before “being thrown onto a stretcher and taken away”, by ambulance, Montella said. He added that the driver appeared to be a middle-aged man who appeared to be in a daze after the crash.
An FDNY spokesperson confirmed to Advance/SILive.com on Saturday that two people were transported to area hospitals – one to Staten Island University Hospital North and the other to Staten Island University Hospital South – although the spokesperson could not provide an update on their conditions, nor could the spokesperson confirm the driver’s contact information.
WATCH IT UNFOLD
At the time of the accident, Montella was a few feet away from the restaurant and could only helplessly watch the incident unfold.
“The car came in at a slow pace, and it just pushed against the storefront…it pushed against a soft spot and then the whole thing blew up. It sounded like a shotgun,” Montella said, speculating that the driver’s foot may have slipped off the brake.
“We had a meal lunch, really nice family. They were shaken. I mean, there were young kids there, and my kids were there,” Montella said. “Fortunately, it was not in [part] they occupied, but it was right next to it. I ran before the car stopped moving and screamed because my son was in that room earlier.
“I can’t make fun of it: it could have been the worst day of my life. A child could have hurt himself, or even worse, in my [restaurant]. If that had happened, I don’t know if I would be able to do it again.
In addition to sparing customers injuries, the car miraculously did not damage the structure of the building.
“[The driver] perfectly,” Montella said. “He couldn’t have done it again if he had tried. The pieces are 15 feet wide, he didn’t hit a wall. But he destroyed the whole window, so we had to install a temporary window, and we were operational by 6 am. [on Friday evening].”
It’s true: despite the heartbreaking incident, Nucci’s reopened in just hours, after a city building inspector gave the thumbs up. On Saturday, Montella posted on Facebook that the restaurant would be open for “business as usual.”
Along with being grateful for the agency’s quick assessment, Montella credited South Shore Glass for providing a temporary wall in place of the destroyed storefront on such short notice.
“My first call was, of course, 911. The second was to my wife to tell her our kids were fine, they were with me,” Montella said. “And the third was to Kevin from South Shore Glass, he arrived while the car was still in the store, before the firefighters got it out. [South Shore Glass] came and got [the temporary wall] done in an hour.
Shocking incident aside, for Montella — who estimates the repairs will cost him at least $8,000 — there was no doubt he wouldn’t be serving Friday night dinner to his customers.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 13. I had a lot of curve balls. Believe me. It was one of the fastest curve balls, yes. But you just have to keep doing this job. … At the end of the day, do it and pray for the best.
BLAZED BY COMMUNITY SUPPORT
Montella is touched by the support he received immediately after the incident and continues to respond to numerous texts and calls.
“My phone exploded, the first message was, ‘Are you okay?’ And then hundreds of messages came in the first half hour. No one called about their booking, not one of them. They said, ‘We would have heard from you directly if [Nucci’s was closed]. But they made sure we were okay.
“A lot of people, they joke [about Staten Island], but I think it’s the best place there is. When things go wrong, the Staten Islanders are there for each other.
The incident at Nucci’s was just the latest occurrence of a car hitting a local business on Staten Island.
On February 9, a driver crashed into the main entrance to Green Garden, located in a shopping strip in the 700 block of Forest Avenue in West Brighton, shaking a pedestrian who said she was nearly injured in the process.