2 Investigates: Car crashes into church cemetery; insurance company refuses to pay

FAYETTE COUNTY, Ga. — Thousands of dollars are at stake in a battle between a historic Georgia church and insurance giant Allstate.

Channel 2 consumer investigator Jim Strickland saw the damage left behind after a mysterious, high-speed wreck.

[RELATED: Are you in good hands? Not if you get hit by someone with Allstate, victims say]

The Hopeful Church has stood in Fayette County for nearly 200 years.

Now the caretaker is hopeful someone will come forward about the car crash that did so much damage to the church cemetery because as of now, the insurance company that covered the driver who did it is refusing to pay.

911 operators got six calls in five minutes from drivers passing by describing the destruction:

Caller: The car’s up in the cemetery.

911: You said headstones are everywhere?

Caller: It’s pretty bad.

Strickland obtained dashcam and body camera videos of a chaotic scene. They show a crumpled Nissan Rogue covered by Allstate Insurance. But the “good hands” people are keeping their hands off.

“They’re just so big, and they have so much they could have done to help, and for them not to offer any assistance, it’s a little hard to understand,” caretaker Dean Breest said of Allstate.

Breest, who volunteers at the church, found others to help right the more than dozen headstones the car mowed down. Some are damaged beyond repair. A local monument company put the price tag just short of $89,000.

“That’s my grandfather and his two sons,” Melvin Griffin told Strickland, gesturing to three toppled and cracked headstones.

Griffin was among the family members who came out to watch.

“It just breaks my heart, to tell you the truth, to see something like this happen. And some big company or an individual just say: ‘The heck with that little church. We don’t care,’” Griffin said.

John Yates donated use of his Bobcat loader to move some of the historical headstones back into place. Yates has family there, too.

“Allstate not wanting to do anything is pretty pitiful,” Yates told Strickland.

The insurance company issued a denial, saying: “There was a phantom vehicle involved which caused this accident.”

Audio from a lieutenant’s body camera documents conflicting stories at the scene. A family whose car was hit first saw no such thing.

“She came forward through, man, straight at us.”

“Did you see someone hit her?” a sheriff’s deputy asked the driver.

“Nah, I ain’t seen nobody hit her,” the driver replied.

None of the six 911 callers described the crash as a hit-and-run. But the crashed driver, and a single witness, blamed a mystery vehicle.

That witness, who is an acquaintance of the crashed driver, described how a truck turned into the woman’s car, hitting it, causing her to swerve onto the church property and then left the scene.

“Basically, that’s what it is at this point. I don’t know that I really buy all that,” another police officer says.

Officers on the scene were clearly skeptical. In fact, a deputy filed two different crash diagrams, one showing only the Nissan, with its driver the suspect at fault. A second diagram depicts a hit-and-run by the phantom vehicle.

No one has seen the mystery vehicle since, despite authorities announcing to be on the lookout for it. Allstate latched on to that report and denies all liability.

“Since we weren’t there to see the incident itself and evidence didn’t support one way or another, we erred on the side of caution and didn’t issue a citation,” Maj. Brian Eubanks with the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department told Strickland.

The Nissan driver did not return Strickland’s text and voice messages. He did reach her witness in Pakistan.

When asked him to confirm the third vehicle, he told Strickland: “It was something like that.”

Breest has found a lawyer and a retired state trooper to dig further.

“For them to say phantom, which means figment of the imagination, is astounding,” Breest said.

Allstate provided this statement to Strickland:

“After conducting a thorough investigation based on details provided in the police report as well as our own internal investigation, we have concluded the damage sustained was the result of a hit and run driver. Allstate investigates every claim independently based on the individual facts and circumstances and is committed to working with customers and consumers to handle each claim quickly, fairly and accurately.”

Insurance payment or not, Hopeful Church is likely not to have this problem again. A local quarry has come forward to donate nearly a dozen giant granite boulders to protect the cemetery from the street.

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