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Longtime downtown Augusta diner still closed after blaze

Monday, Jan. 2, 2012 12:15 PM
Last updated 8:49 PM
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The restaurant is dark and damp. The booths where diners would devour scrambled eggs and toast are now charred to a black crisp.

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Whistle Stop Cafe owner Hanson Carter looks at  fire damage caused by arson in November. A $12,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest of the anyone responsible.  CHRIS THELEN/STAFF
CHRIS THELEN/STAFF
Whistle Stop Cafe owner Hanson Carter looks at fire damage caused by arson in November. A $12,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest of the anyone responsible.

Walking through Whistle Stop Cafe at Sixth and Greene streets, the counters and walls are so scorched, they look as if they’d crumble to ash if the wind blew through.

Since Thanksgiving night, when someone fire-bombed the restaurant, owner Hanson Carter’s dream of keeping a thriving neighborhood diner has been put on hold. His two employees are now jobless, and Carter is left to wonder why anyone would randomly destroy a business he was trying to grow.

“It makes me sick,” said Carter, stepping over shards of glass and chips of ceiling with a flashlight. “I wouldn’t mind opening another restaurant, but I’m just not so sure about this location anymore because of these types of problems. You can’t help but think, ‘Maybe it’s time to move.’”

At almost $175,000 in damage, the cost of the arson exceeds the cap of what Carter’s insurance company is willing to pay. Even if he had the funds to restore his restaurant, Carter said the crime in downtown Augusta is discouraging him from taking another chance.

Carter bought the diner in March and opened for business in May after the building had sat vacant for more than a year. He gradually accumulated a client base of regulars for breakfast and lunch, with some families remembering the diner from its beginnings in the 1950s, Carter said.

Not even three months after opening, a burglar shattered the glass front window of the restaurant, pried an empty cash register open but left with nothing.

After the burglary, Carter installed a fire and alarm system, and he considered purchasing security cameras next.

On Thanksgiving, shortly before 8:30 p.m., Carter was watching TV when his security company called about the fire.

“This can’t be happening,” Carter remembers thinking. “We had just turned the corner where we were starting to do really good business.”

Investigators said the suspect threw a 5-gallon plastic paint bucket through the window and set the restaurant on fire.

A $12,000 reward has been posted for anyone who has information leading to an arrest, but neither a suspect nor a motive has been narrowed down.

“Nothing has come in yet, period. Not a word,” said Augusta Fire Department Lt. Neal Brown.

As damaging as the Whistle Stop’s fire has been, it’s not an isolated crime. Through October, there were 29 arson incidents in Richmond County in 2011, compared with 21 in all of 2010, according to the sheriff’s office.

Brown said it’s difficult to solve arsons when no tips are brought forward and no evidence leads to a suspect.

“There’s no real thing to put your finger on,” Brown said.

Until Carter figures out the specifics of the coverage with his insurance company, he is unsure whether he will try to bring the diner back.

He sees the fire not as just a business setback, but as a community problem that needs to be fixed.

“I don’t know what I’ll do from here,” Carter said. “It’s just becoming more discouraging to start a business in this economic condition alone, but also things like this that happen ... we need our community leaders. We’re going to have to start making changes in the community.”

TIPS?

Up to $12,000 is offered for anyone providing information on the Nov. 24 arson at Whistle Stop Cafe.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office at (706) 821-1080.

Comments (7) Add comment
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Farmboy
910
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Farmboy 01/02/12 - 01:43 pm
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0
If the law does not get em',

If the law does not get em', I know someone else who will. Thank you Father for watching down over us.

kiwiinamerica
924
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kiwiinamerica 01/02/12 - 07:14 pm
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Sad news. A burglary and a
Unpublished

Sad news. A burglary and a firebombing in just 6 months. Who would have thought that serving bacon and eggs would be such a hazardous occupation?

Any problem customers? Told any panhandlers to clear off? It has to be somebody with a vendetta. Motiveless crimes are rare.

cityman
-6
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cityman 01/02/12 - 09:59 pm
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We need community based
Unpublished

We need community based policing in Augusta!

bdouglas
4530
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bdouglas 01/03/12 - 09:38 am
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"I’m just not so sure about

"I’m just not so sure about this location anymore because of these types of problems."

"As damaging as the Whistle Stop’s fire has been, it’s not an isolated crime. Through October, there were 29 arson incidents in Richmond County in 2011, compared with 21 in all of 2010, according to the sheriff’s office."

There's a person or two who are conspicuously absent in the comments on this story. Surprising...

Little Lamb
44030
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Little Lamb 01/03/12 - 10:01 am
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0
I feel bad for Mr. Carter.

I feel bad for Mr. Carter. He's got some tough decisions to make. That was a charming building, reminding us of days gone by. I doubt this arson was done by a homeless vagrant or by a gang member. My guess is that some wannabe real estate developer wants that corner lot to build a law office.

Riverman1
79774
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Riverman1 01/03/12 - 10:06 am
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LL, wow, that would be

LL, wow, that would be something. Arson carries a penalty almost as great as murder. It will be interesting who gets the property.

sid2279
0
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sid2279 01/03/12 - 12:37 pm
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It was Denny's hitmen.

It was Denny's hitmen.

Boston93
117
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Boston93 01/03/12 - 02:10 pm
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Maybe the paint plan that

Maybe the paint plan that burned the Whistle Stop was intended to make a hole to get in and burglarize and went wrong. Just a thought. It will be missed and hopefully they can recover. My daughter took me there many times and they were nice people (with a few weirdo's every now and then in there) and we enjoyed the food and the service. In general the majority of customers appeared to be nice people that loved good food. Saw doctors/lawyers eating there occasionally. Good luck on catching the culprit(s).

nchawk
0
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nchawk 01/03/12 - 02:57 pm
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0
Carters, Tammy and Barry, we

Carters, Tammy and Barry, we miss you guys and the hospitality you've provided to all the rowers and ex-rowers over the years. We'll follow you wherever and whenever you decide to bring back the greatness of the Whistle Stop! Thanks for everything so far, I can't get a pancake like you make!

Iwannakno
1533
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Iwannakno 01/04/12 - 11:16 am
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Yeah it's so safe
Unpublished

Yeah it's so safe downtown...why it's practically a utopia...criminals just run away from that area because they are scared of all the new construction going on there...they soon know that with more people around their chances of robbing someone will go down...I love fiction.

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