Car chase comes to an end when suspect’s car flies through shopping plaza, catching the building on fire

A police chase came to an abrupt end in northeast Atlanta when the white Porsche the suspect was driving slammed through a shopping plaza

Moments later, the car exploded, igniting the whole building near the intersection of Cheshire Bridge Road and Piedmont Road early Friday morning. 

"I heard a big like boom and explosion so I came out the office door," said Barron McClendon, who heard the blast when he was working early this morning. "A lot of smoke coming out of the backside of this building, and when I came around front it, started sparking into a big flame."

The Georgia State Patrol said troopers were in pursuit of the Porsche after they clocked it going 105 miles per hour on I-75/I-85 northbound, neat the north split. 

The Porsche jumped the curb and crashed into World Finance, a tax service and loan provider in the plaza. The fire spread to SuperCuts, which was completely destroyed, along with several other businesses in the plaza. 

The manager of SuperCuts said it was a total loss.

"It’s destroyed. Like, I’ve seen pictures from the inside and everything is burnt," said Chanel Mosley. "Nothing. Equipment, it’s all gone."

Troopers said the man behind the wheel was Theodore Merchant, 21, of Virginia Beach, Virginia. 

He crawled from the burning wreck himself, and medics took him to Grady Memorial Hospital.

The Georgia State Patrol described his injuries as non-life-threatening. No other injuries were reported. 

(FOX 5)

Firefighters did everything they could to save the businesses.

It took them a minute to get the hoses hooked up to the water to you know put out the flames but they did a pretty good job once they got set up," McClendon said. 

"It had flames all through the building so we went with a defensive operation," said Atlanta Fire Battalion Chief Douglas Hatcher. "They called for a full alarm assignment and all the units came and we just worked defensively to put the fire out."

As of Friday evening, Merchant had not yet been booked into the Fulton County Jail. 

Police have not said what they are charging him with.

Several of the businesses in the plaza remain closed indefinitely. 

(FOX 5)

Mosley, the SuperCuts manager, said this is not the first incident like this they have had to deal with. 

She said two other cars have rammed into the building, including one with a drunk driver behind the wheel two years ago.

"We were able to get back up and running in two days. But now, it’s going to be months," Mosley said.

An employee of another shop in the plaza, who did not wish to be identified, said this latest incident makes her nervous to come into her own job. 

That employee and Mosley both said they want to see some barricades installed before it happens again. 

"Hopefully the city does put up some type of ramp or blockade to prevent this from happening," Mosley said. "If it happens during the daytime, somebody could be seriously injured."

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