Crash: A driver abandoned his vehicle and fled after crashing yesterday. Todd James

At around 2:07 a.m. on Oct. 11 a white van ran through the outdoor dining barrier at Berbere restaurant, hit an outdoor booth at Heroic Italian restaurant and smashed into the windows of Thunderbolt Spiritual Bookstore.

According to SMPD, a few minutes later two males wearing hoodies entered through the broken glass, stole the cash register and then fled. The cash register was later found in the 1400 block of alley 5, which is located directly behind the stores.

SMPD is investigating this as two separate crimes — a hit and run and a burglary.

Officers arrived on scene after a city employee reported the van crash at 5:32 a.m. According to SMPD, the driver left the vehicle and fled the scene shortly after the collision.

“We’re just lucky nobody was sleeping out there, because people sometimes sleep on those benches and seriously somebody could have died, so I’m just glad everybody is ok,” said Damian Morgan-Flemming, manager at Thunderbolt Spiritual Bookstore, explaining that homeless individuals often sleep in the outdoor dining spaces by the store.

Morgan-Flemming said that all the cash was taken from the register, but that it was not a significant amount. He also said that the police took fingerprints from the register and hopes this helps them identify the culprits.

The entire left side of the bookstore’s windows were destroyed and need to be replaced. At the newly opened Ethiopian restaurant Berbere several tables were damaged as were the parklet barrier planters. Heroic Italian also suffered damages to its planters and to one of its wooden dining booths.

Jeffrey Merrihue, Executive Chef at Heroic Italian, expressed exasperation at the incident as on Sept. 30 a separate van drove into the Beverly Hills Heroic Italian kiosk and heavily damaged the structure.

“It destroyed a booth, whereas in Beverly Hills it destroyed the whole restaurant,” said Merrihue. “It’s actually quite a pain in the neck to fix, but it’s a small percentage of our overall seating; we have 42 seats outdoors, so we lost six.”

Merrihue said the custom made booths are expensive and hard to build, but is relieved that he is able to keep the Santa Monica restaurant open as the Beverly Hills location is closed and in need of extensive repairs.

“Anyone who is still open after this mess (the pandemic) has got to have some kind of fundamental underlying resilience,” said Merrihue. “Our team has a never give up attitude; when we got looted May 31st of last year the place was pretty well ransacked, but we came in in the morning, and a lot of the neighbors came out, and we all swept up and opened on time at 11 a.m. with broken windows.”

All three businesses picked up the pieces from the van incident, replaced furniture where necessary and were open as of Monday morning.