Barry Saunders

Still healing from that horrible day at Crabtree Valley Mall – Saunders

Manu and Kokila Patel share their story from Aug. 13th at Crabtree Valley Mall

Kokila Patel was trampled and broke her femur in the chaos that ensued after reported gun shots at the Crabtree Valley Mall
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Kokila Patel was trampled and broke her femur in the chaos that ensued after reported gun shots at the Crabtree Valley Mall

It took just two minutes of mayhem for Kokila Patel to experience the worst – and then the best – of us.

You know how in school when there’d be a fire drill and the teachers would tell you to line up single file and, in the event of a real fire, to proceed to the exits in an orderly manner?

You would think, “Orderly? Yeah, right.”

The people at Crabtree Valley Mall earlier this month were obviously absent that day – or they were the ones going, “Yeah, right.”

When thousands of Crabtree shoppers and employees were spooked by a loud noise and fled, terrified, to the exits in a frighteningly disorderly manner, Patel, 66, was knocked to the floor. When she tried to get up, fleeing shoppers knocked her back down. She was trampled by panicky mall patrons escaping what they thought were gunshots or an explosion.

Their panic is nothing to poke fun at, because anyone who has been paying attention is already as skittish as a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs, just waiting for something bad to happen. The paranoia is not confined to Carolina:

  • Shoppers at a mall in Orlando last week stampeded when balloons were popped as part of a restaurant’s grand opening – even though announcements were made over the public address system that the noise they were fixing to hear was caused by balloons. Nine people were injured.
  • While I was standing in front of the White House last week with several hundred awe-struck citizens, something apparently spooked the Secret Service and they quickly and brusquely cleared the sidewalk – and then the street – directly in front of the joint. Minutes later, a strapped official told us to “back up to that statue” in Lafayette Park.

They were still not satisfied, so they eventually pushed us through the park and back to H Street. Viewed from that distance, the White House lost some of its majesty. We never learned what caused the Secret Service to tell us, in essence, “get off my lawn,” and the mean-looking dogs and meaner-looking automatic weapons dissuaded one from asking.

It’s been two weeks since the Crabtree incident, and police have still not been able to confirm that a gunshot caused the noise reported to 911 by 300 callers. They don’t know what caused it or even if there was a noise, or if the mall mass hysteria was just a chain reaction – you know, one of those “‘Why are you running?’ ‘Because you’re running!’” situations.

Police stated that there were no injuries from a gunshot or explosion, and no serious injuries from any other reason. They must not have talked to Manu Patel, because he disagrees.

Police, soon after the incident, stated that there were no injuries from a gunshot or explosion, and no serious injuries from any other cause.

They must not have talked to Manu Patel, because he disagrees. Vociferously. “It is very serious,” he told me of the injury that his wife, Kokila, suffered. “Her femur bone was broken – fractured – and they put in a steel plate to repair it.” She also had to have 30 stitches, he said.

Sounds serious to me, too.

Kokila Patel was released from Hillcrest Rehabilitation Center in Raleigh Friday.

“She is OK,” Patel said when I asked how she is doing, “but we don’t know what lies ahead. We have Medicare, but I don’t know if all of the expenses are covered by the insurance.”

Patel said his wife and he had moved less than a month ago to a townhouse near Crabtree and decided to check out the neighborhood mall. “We just happened to be there that day and then BOOM, you see what happened.”

What, I asked, precisely did he remember about what happened?

“My wife and I were in the mall, and all of a sudden, some kind of sound came in and people leaving the mall started running like crazy,” he said.

The ensuing pandemonium pushed the Patels apart, he said, “and she was knocked down and unable to get up. People just ran over her. They just stepped on her and broke the bone.”

Yikes. Talk about a low point for humankind, right?

Humankind was redeemed moments later, when, Manu Patel said, “two nurses who happened to be shopping there stopped by and really helped her out. ... That was a good thing, because the mall was locked down after that and nobody could get out.”

Manu Patel is happy that his wife’s injuries are not worse, but he is unhappy with the inconsiderate, cowardly clods who stepped over and on his wife.

He’s not too thrilled, either, with mall officials, from whom he’s heard nothing.

“Nobody has followed up,” he lamented.

Gee, can’t y’all just call and ask, “How ya’ doin’?” or send over a gift basket or something to a family whose introduction to the neighborhood was so traumatic?

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