Bryan Chandlee-Exum stood atop piles of shattered glass late Thursday morning, still in shock and disbelief over what had occurred at her and her husband Larry's shop less than 24 hours before.
It was around 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. An elderly couple, faithful clients of Chandlee Jewelers, had just exited the store. Daughter Chandlee was near the front of the shop assisting a female customer who was seated at a showcase when --seemingly out of nowhere-- a white Honda Odyssey came crashing through the storefront.
The van barrelled through five showcases, tossing the seated customer about 15 feet, and leaving a trail of broken glass and scattered jewelry in its wake before smashing into a steel-enforced wall in the middle of the store.
It was over in a matter of seconds, but to Bryan and the other witnesses, it felt like time stood still.
"I swear it seemed like it lasted five minutes," she said. "I saw basically the whole thing, from where the front end hit the glass."
She had been standing behind a counter on the right side of the shop.
"I thought, what the hell? And I look up and there's a front of a minivan coming through my front door area! It just kept coming and coming and I kept screaming, 'Somebody stop it! Somebody Stop it!' And it was just mass mayhem," Bryan recalled.
Chandlee dashed over to aid the customer, who fortunately didn't suffer life-threatening injures. The 63-year-old Athens woman was transported to an area hospital for treatment.
"It was just a nightmare," Chandlee recalled, adding that last night it was difficult to rest. "I would close my eyes and I kept seeing it and hearing it." Any loud noise has her on edge, she explained, like the sound of wooden boards being stapled to the building where the glass windows used to be.
Bryan said it was a miracle that no one else was harmed. There were seven people in the store at the time: two buyers from New York, four employees, and the customer.
"It's just running through my mind -- all these people that have been jampacking the store for the last three days because these two buyers are here. And I'm thinking, you know, it could have killed two people or twelve people at any given time had it been literally five minutes before people had left or five minutes after," she said. "It's just mind-boggling how catastrophic it could have been."
Insurance will fund the repairs and also compensate for sales losses that will be incurred during this holiday shopping season, Bryan said.
"Everything in there can be fixed in time, so it will all be okay," she said. "But right now, I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around it."
According to Trooper Jared Williams of the Georgia State Patrol, the van had turned right into the parking space and accelerated. The 63-year-old driver from Winterville told authorities an object rolled from the backseat under her seat and lodged under the pedals. A CO2 cylinder was found in the front seat, Williams said. No criminal charges will be filed.
Neither the driver nor her 42-year-old daughter who was in the van at the time were injured.
All customers' jewelry is safely locked away, assured Bryan. As an added security measure, deputies were stationed at the store overnight and will continue to stand guard during its reconstruction, Sheriff Scott Berry said.
Bryan said they hope to reopen by the end of next week.