Tomato Head reopens after tragedy

8:19 PM, Mar 1, 2013   |    comments
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Just a day after tragedy, workers at the Tomato Head restaurant in West Knoxville are back at work, while remembering the woman who lost her life.

Thursday afternoon, a car crashed into the front of the restaurant, killing 58-year-old Deborah Thompson. She was the principal at Bledsoe County Middle School in Pikeville, and was battling cancer.

Police say the driver of a 2013 Chrysler 300 slammed into the popular restaurant, as well as neighboring business Wild Birds Unlimited. Officials say Thompson died after being hit by the car while paying her bill at the checkout, however, Tomato Head Owner Mahasti Vafai says that's not exactly correct.

"They had paid at the table, and we believe she had stepped out of the building and was either on her way to the bird shop or was already in the bird shop," said Vafai.
Vafai says she is thankful more people weren't hurt during the crash.

"Five or six of our employees were right in front, really near where it happened. So we're really lucky that we didn't have more loss of life," she said.

Witnesses say they saw the car driving through the parking lot very quickly before the crash.

"We saw the car go by the window at about 60 miles per hour. You could definitely tell there was a (makes sound), and then a shattering," said Beth Pennington.

Pennington works at Supercuts Salon three doors down from the Tomato Head in the Gallery Shopping Center, and says she talked with the driver, 53-year-old Dewayne Kelley, immediately after the crash.

"The first thing he asked when he starting coming to was if everyone was okay. Then we asked him what had happened, and he said his foot had gotten stuck on the pedal and he couldn't do anything," she recalled.

There will be a vigil Sunday night at 9:30 in honor of Debbie Thompson, and a portion of the restaurant's proceeds this weekend will go toward a memorial for her.

10News reached out to the driver of the car, Dewayne Kelley, who is now out of the hospital. Neither he nor his attorney would comment.

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