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A Day of Small Miracles: Lives Spared After Driver Plows Through Whalebone

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Call it what you will: fate, luck, a miracle, but the fact that no one was killed when a truck plowed through the wall at the Whalebone General Store in Noyac on Friday afternoon is certainly remarkable. It appears that, at least for two women, tasks that took them out of the normal routine of their day contributed to their lives being spared.

At about 2:40 on Friday afternoon, a driver who has told police he felt dizzy while driving eastbound on Noyac Road, apparently blacked out, crossed over the west bound lane of traffic and went through a small garden supply area next to the building before crashing through the wall and landing completely in the store.

“He apparently went a bit airborne, since there is a small retaining wall just outside the building,” said Kristen Heine, whose family has owned the popular general store since 1985.

The truck drove over the store’s check out counter where, normally, an employee would have been taking care of a customer, perhaps buying a greeting card, or trying their luck with the lottery.

The driver of the truck, a 2005 Chevrolet pickup, has been identified as Donald W. Calabrese, 62, of Sagaponack, and has since been charged with driving while intoxicated.

Photos of the site show the truck surrounded by wrecked counters and shelving, balloons, gift items and boxes. Even a stuffed animal sits in the foreground. The photos do not show the lone employee at work that afternoon, who was standing only a few feet away from where the pickup came to rest. As it turns out, Friday was her first day on the job.

“The whole day was a series of unplanned events,” said Linda Heine, Kristen’s mother. She said the young woman who was working when the crash occurred was actually filling in for another woman who had to leave early that day.

“I didn’t do what I was supposed to on Friday,” she said. “I’m almost always there.”

Indeed, Mrs. Heine had returned recently from the annual gift fair in New York City, and had planned on spending the afternoon at the Whalebone, making follow-up calls and making sure orders for new stock were received.

Instead, Mrs. Heine accompanied her husband, George, to the eye doctor.

Mr. Heine had ordered a new pair of glasses and wanted his wife to see them.

“I trust her opinion,” Mr. Heine confided.

“I really didn’t want to go,” Mrs. Heine admitted. But she agreed to the trip to Southampton.

Also that day, the woman who normally would have been working had to leave early, and the Heines called in a new woman to help out.

“She’s a friend of the family and I was very impressed with her when I first interviewed her,” said Mrs. Heine. “She knows what she is doing.”

“I knew I was going to be about 15 minutes late getting back,” said Mrs. Heine,” but I felt she could do anything.”

And it was the new woman’s attentiveness and reliability that possibly saved her life.

When Mrs. Heine spoke to the woman — who she asked not to identify — about her chores for the first day, she asked her specifically to vacuum and straighten up an area about two aisles away from the counter. So after only about a half hour into her first day, and after helping a couple of customers with the purchase of lottery tickets, the young woman found herself straightening up the aisle.

“She reached down to turn on the vacuum and heard a terrible explosion,” said Mr. Heine. “She thought she blew up the building.”

At the exact moment the woman flipped the on switch, the pickup came barreling through the wall, creating a giant cloud of smoke.

“At first she couldn’t see the truck,” said Mr. Heine.

But as the smoke cleared, she found herself pushed up against a glass candy counter and the checkout counter pressed up against her legs.

“She could have been cut to ribbons if the glass had broken,” said Mrs. Heine.

“It was her work ethic that saved her life,” said Mr. Heine. “She was told to clean up that aisle, and that’s the first thing she did.”

While not injured, the woman was taken to Southampton Hospital because she was shaken by the accident. Calabrese was also taken to Southampton Hospital, but apparently did not sustain any injuries. He was arraigned on Saturday in Southampton Town Justice Court.

“For all intents and purposes I was supposed to be there, sitting at the counter checking on the orders,” said Mrs. Heine. “There were no customers in the store at the time, no delivery people, someone buying lottery tickets had just left.”

“It’s a miracle no one was killed,” said Mr. Heine. “I don’t care what you say; God was in the store that day.”