Witnesses describe the scene as a car smashes into the Arlington bar

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Dave Cahill was down the street from his popular Arlington pub when an employee of Four Courts of Ireland called with a desperate message for help on Friday night: there had been an explosion inside.

Cahill, a managing partner at the pub, rushed to find a scene he described as chaos. A passenger car rammed the front door and rammed into workers and two groups of customers, including a business happy hour where guests came to exchange gifts. Cahill said his employees and bargoers have turned into a rescue team, helping to get the injured – who police revised from 14 to 15 on Saturday – to safety.

“It was absolute carnage,” Cahill said. “People are crying and people are running in the street. People are trying to get the wounded out. Then the bar caught fire.

Several injured after car smashes into Arlington bar and starts major fire

A day after the horrific crash that happened around 6.45pm Friday on a busy stretch of Wilson Boulevard, authorities were still trying to figure out why it happened. On Saturday, Arlington police said the driver was operating a rideshare at the time and had a passenger, but said a cause was still being investigated.

Police said nine people were taken to hospital on Friday, including the driver and passenger, but only three remained as of Saturday. Among them, two are in critical condition and one in serious but stable condition. Six others were released. Cahill said three employees and at least four bar patrons were among those injured.

Witnesses said the accident looked like a bomb explosion. “The force of the explosion knocked people off their stools,” Cahill said. As terrible as the accident was, he said it could have been much worse. It happened on a Friday night in August, when there were no major sports games, so there were only about eight patrons in the building. Cahill said weeks earlier, 200 people had crowded inside to watch a football game around the same time.

Mira Hougen, 18, a former worker at Four Courts, was driving her 15-year-old brother to work at the pub. She said her brother was never late for work, but Friday he was, and that may have spared him serious injury.

They arrived a few minutes after the accident. Cahill said the car traveled about 20ft inside the pub, stopping against the host’s stand where Hougen said his brother would have been parked for work. Hougen said she found a gaping hole in front of the bright red facade of Four Courts when she pulled up. Black smoke billowed from it and quickly turned into orange flames. According to the police, the fire was started by the car which caught fire.

Hougen captured the moment on video. It shows people caring for the injured lying on the sidewalk and a first responder rushing through the large hole created by the impact of the car. Flames begin to glow ominously inside the building. In a second video shortly after, flames can be seen licking the facade of the pub and shooting upwards.

Hougen said a group of older men were regulars at the pub, so she was relieved when she saw some had emerged unscathed, including one who was leaning on a cane. “They were so shocked,” Hougen said. “The look on their faces.”

Police said the vehicle hit the pub after driving up North Courthouse Road, which ends just opposite the road’s intersection with Wilson Boulevard. Hougen said a witness told him the car was moving at a good pace when it hit the bar. This account could not be confirmed by the police.

Arlington firefighters were able to bring the blaze under control, but Cahill said the damage to the pub was extensive. Photos he sent show a blackened interior filled with stacks of planks, twisted metal and an overturned bar stool. Cahill said the pub had not yet quantified the losses.

Fourteen people were injured on August 12 when a vehicle crashed into the Four Courts Irish pub in Arlington’s courthouse area. (Video: Mira Hougen)

Mike De Robbio, a regular at Four Courts, went online shortly after the accident and started a GoFundMe campaign which has the pub’s blessing. He had raised nearly $20,000 by Saturday afternoon, and De Robbio said donations poured in from across the country.

De Robbio said he was compelled to help because Four Courts was an integral part of the local community. The pub opened in 1996 and regularly hosts football fans and has a restaurant which serves Irish food. De Robbio said he started going to the pub in 2018 after his father died. He said it helped him reconnect with the world and he kept coming back.

He said Four Courts was so popular that local Democratic and Republican groups were considering holding a joint fundraiser, which he said was remarkable in an age of hyper-partisanship. “If someone is in Arlington for a day or has lived here for a few years, this is the place to go in their hometown,” De Robbio said of Four Courts. “At the risk of sounding cliché, this place is Cheers. Everyone knows you.

Cahill said the accident came at a particularly difficult time, as the pub was just recovering from years of restrictions and reduced business linked to the coronavirus pandemic. He said the company is trying to figure out how to help injured employees.

A structural engineer has deemed the building safe, but it cannot be reoccupied yet. Cahill said he was inundated with messages from supporters and thanked first responders for getting to the scene so quickly. He promised Four Courts would reopen. “We just process everything,” Cahill said. “It’s a bullet from the sky.”

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