This story originally appeared in the May 16, 2002 edition of the Inquirer.
They never had a chance.
Three women nearing the end of the overnight shift at a McDonald's restaurant in Mount Ephraim were killed early yesterday when a Cadillac DeVille plowed into the building and ripped through an indoor children's
play area and the dining room before ending its deadly run in the kitchen.
The gray-green sedan had hit the restaurant on the Black Horse Pike in Camden County at a "high rate of speed," investigators said, but they would not say what the driver's condition was at the time or whether it
was an accident.
People at the scene expressed amazement that the car had made it through an 11-foot gap in a collection of light poles, utility boxes, and a flagpole in front of the restaurant before hitting the building.
The victims were two grandmothers and a mother of four, all described as working to earn extra money for their families.
Authorities with a search warrant removed a computer hard drive from the Haddon Heights home of the driver, Frank Nastasi , 52, who survived.
Investigators also were awaiting the results of toxicology tests. No charges were filed last night.
Because of the hour - it was about 4:20 a.m. - only the 24-hour restaurant's drive-through window was in service and no customers were inside when the car burst in.
Three other women were working in the restaurant, and one of them was treated at the scene for minor injuries.
Nastasi was reported in critical but stable condition at Cooper Hospital-University Medical Center in Camden before his family directed that no further information about him be released.
The victims were identified as Nancy King, 49, of Audubon, Camden County; Cindy Molino, 45, a mother of four from Mount Ephraim; and Joanne Bowen, 52, also of Mount Ephraim. Bowen once lived in an apartment building two doors away from the restaurant.
Autopsy results were not released, but officials said the victims had been pronounced dead at the scene.
The women had more than a quarter-century of experience among them as McDonald's employees, the company said.
Camden County Prosecutor Lee A. Solomon said the car had been traveling "at a high rate of speed. " Other officials said the vehicles may have been airborne as it headed toward the building. Nastasi 's home is only three-quarters of a mile from the restaurant and it appeared he had been coming from that direction.
Nastasi, whose family owns a furniture store in Oaklyn, was out of the car and walking about when police and firefighters arrived, authorities said.
He has had a clean driving record for more than 10 years, according to state records.
The McDonald's is on the Black Horse Pike where Prospect Ridge Boulevard, which runs through Haddon Heights, ends in a T-shaped intersection at the border with Mount Ephraim.
Police said Nastasi had been driving down Prospect Ridge when he crossed the Black Horse Pike, climbed a curb, passed through a gap between a light pole and a utility box, bounded across another set of curbs, and smashed into the glass front of the restaurant.
"That's like kicking a field goal from the 50-yard line," said William Kenney, a former member of the Haddon Heights Borough Council who had looked into accidents at the intersection in the past.
"It's freakish," said Jerry Elder of Gloucester Township, who stopped to inspect the scene.
Kenney said that Nastasi was a "pretty regular guy," and that he could not believe the crash had been intentional.
There were no skid marks, and the grass in front of the restaurant bore only a faint impression of tire tracks.
After shattering the safety glass, the Cadillac scattered everything in its path as it plowed through a play set of large plastic tubes, another glass wall, and the customer counter before stopping in the kitchen, officials said.
Firefighters quickly put out a fire that broke out after the crash, which came as the workers were in the last hour of their shift.
The restaurant has had a bad year. It reopened only recently after reconstruction for damage from a fire in August. A volunteer firefighter from Mount Ephraim who used to work at the McDonald's is awaiting trial on charges of setting the blaze.
The overnight shift was instituted after the reopening, offering a limited, late-night menu.
Lindsay D'Angell, 19, of Bellmawr, who worked at the restaurant two years ago, said she knew King and Bowen.
"It's horrible what happened," she said. "Thank God it did not happen in the middle of the day. "
D'Angell said King "was hardworking. She cared about the work she did here. "
In Audubon, neighbors grew teary-eyed when they learned of King's death. They described her as friendly and attentive to the neighborhood children. She had three granddaughters who spent the weekend with her and her husband, Steve.
"I knew she worked there," Cheryl Cellucci said. "I prayed to God it wasn't her. "
Debbie Troth said, "You couldn't ask for a better next-door neighbor. "
Jennifer Broderick, who knew Molino, said she had worked at the McDonald's to earn extra money for her family.
"She was a great lady," Broderick said. "She worked hard for her kids, her husband, her family. I'm just amazed."
Amy Jackson, a company spokeswoman, said McDonald's was talking to the victims' families about assistance.
"We will try to provide them with everything we possibly can," she said.
Contact Joseph Gambardello at 856-779-3868 or email@example.com.
Contributing to this article were staff writers Thom Guarnieri and Emilie Lounsberry and Jake Wagman of the Inquirer's suburban staff.