Wall collapses at business north of Lenoir

Jan. 12, 2014 @ 08:03 AM

Reggie Wallin heard a popping noise from the back of his store, Smilin Equipment, just before 11 a.m. Five minutes later, the back wall collapsed into the store.

The only thing emergency crews could do was just keep the building safe and make sure power was shut off. As he waited for an insurance adjuster to arrive, Wallin wondered what would become of the business he had banked his future on, a heavy equipment and gun store he just opened last May.

“My whole life savings are in this,” he said as a steady rain fell.

Dino DiBernardi, inspector with the Caldwell County fire marshal’s office, said the heavy rain that fell Saturday morning and a broken water main caused the ground around the wall to give way due to a lack of drainage. The National Weather Service reported 1.12 inches of rain had fallen at the Foothills Regional Airport Saturday between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Wallin knew something was wrong when he arrived at the store around 7:15 a.m. and found the store’s water didn’t work. He noticed the water line where it came into the building was spraying water. He and a friend, Tim Hartley, grabbed some shovels and began to dig out the earth around the broken pipe. It was then they realized the popping noise was the wall joists being splintered.

Wallin, his wife, Gail, and Hartley got out safely, but the store suffered major damage. He had not put his guns out on display yet, but some merchandise, including gun scopes, tools and accessories, were ruined. 

The Lovelady Rescue Collapse Rescue Team was brought in to help shore up the building, but little else could be done.

“We weren’t able to do anything,” DiBernardi said. “I didn’t want anybody hurt. All we could do otherwise was just check to make sure the power was cut off. We’re just standing by.”

Wallin previously owned a heavy equipment store on Hickory Boulevard, and relocated to downsize his business.