TUSCUMBIA — Police Sgt. Stuart Setliff said the driver of a truck that wrecked at a longtime Tuscumbia landmark Wednesday gives a whole new meaning to drive-in.
“He didn’t drive through, but he put a big hole in the side of the building,” said Setliff, referring to Sparkey’s Drive-In Restaurant on Old Lee Highway.
The driver of a 1999 Chevrolet Silverado lost control of the truck and slammed into the side of the restaurant just before 8 a.m. Wednesday, police said. The crash sent debris in several directions.
The driver of the truck, Walker Ricks, 41, 115 Graham Ave., Tuscumbia, was taken to Helen Keller Hospital where he was treated and later released, according to hospital officials.
Reports indicate witnesses said the truck turned east onto Old Lee Highway from Frankfort Road and the driver then lost control of the truck, which started sliding into the west side of the building.
The impact was so severe that Tuscumbia firefighters had to free Ricks from the truck. The truck bent a large sign pole, while a portion of the truck ended up inside the building.
Todd Smith, whose mother, Karen Smith, owns the building and business, was in the kitchen at the time of the crash, preparing to open the business at 10 a.m.
“I was in the far end of the building, doing prep work like I do every day,” Smith said. “I didn’t know what was going on. It sounded like an explosion. I got trapped in the kitchen, by the grill.”
He said there was so much dust and debris that nearly 30 minutes passed before he knew the building was hit by a truck.
Firefighters said being trapped inside the kitchen likely kept Smith from being injured.
Smith said family members came to the restaurant after the wreck and began assessing what can and can’t be done to the building.
But he said one thing is for certain, Sparkey’s Drive-In is not closing.
“We’re relocating temporarily,” Smith said.
He said work already is under way to move the business into a vacant building in Spring Park. Plans are to re-open in the temporary building in a week.
“We hope to be open for business next Wednesday,” Smith said. “In the meantime, we’ll be seeing what we can do with this building.”
Smith said his family bought the business and the two-story building from Blanton Sparks’ family in 1994. He said the Sparks opened Sparkey’s Drive-In on July 4, 1956.
“Sparkey’s is a part of Tuscumbia’s history,” said Tuscumbia resident and Colbert County Emergency Management Agency Director Mike Melton. “Everyone in the area has had a foot-long hotdog and ice cream from there at some point.”
Local historian and Tuscumbia resident John McWilliams said Sparks used to do a lot of barbecuing at the restaurant. McWilliams said he remembers seeing Sparks standing in the restaurant during the flood of 1973 as water came near the door. “He was saying he already had moved the barbecue.”
McWilliams said Sparks was “a character” who had a group of friends who loved to play pranks on him. “He bought a new truck one time and they stole it. They later sent him an anonymous letter telling him where it was.”
McWilliams recalls an incident about 25 years ago involving a rifle discharging and hitting the restaurant.
“Someone got out of their truck and slammed the door, and there was a rifle in the truck,” McWilliams said. “It went off from the truck and hit the block building, right in front of where you wait on people. It didn’t go through the wall but it took a chunk out of the block.”
Of course, McWilliams also knows about the restaurant’s famed foot-long hot dog.
“I ate there all my life, especially his foot-long hot dog; I love those hot dogs,” he said. “The place is a landmark. Everybody in Tuscumbia knows about Sparkey’s.”
Ray Basden said his son, Brett, who lives in Auburn, has to have a Sparkey’s foot-long hot dog every time he comes home.
“That’s what he had for Christmas dinner,” Basden said. “I sent him some information on what happened today. I’m sure when he read it, there were tears in his eyes.”
Smith said he has been amazed by the number of calls from customers the business received after news spread of the wreck and the damage it created.
“We’ve had calls from customers who live out of state. The news really traveled fast,” he said. “But Sparkey’s is still alive and will continue to be. We will be back in the original location as soon as possible.”
TimesDaily Staff Writer Bernie Delinski contributed to this story.
Tom Smith can be reached at 256-740-5757 or tom.smith@TimesDaily.com.