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Shop owner tries to pick up the pieces

by: Sam Bennett, 
Susan Asbury and her dog, Miss China, sit in her recently rebuilt store, Framed by Design. A police car plowed into the storefront a month ago.

As a small business owner, Susan Asbury is always looking for new customers. But in the last month, she has had a harder time than usual.

A month ago, a Lake Oswego Police Department patrol car crashed through the glass front of Asbury's store, Framed by Design, at 333 S. State St.

While no one was hurt, the accident left the store in shambles.

'I'm sure I've lost money,' she said, referring to attracting customers. 'It's hard to say how much until I have everything fixed.'

The police car, driven by Officer Matt Gill, took an unexpected turn into the storefront while Gill was making a routine traffic stop in the parking lot of Lake Place Center.

The car came within inches of Framed by Design employee Carmen Bice, who was at a desk working on a computer.

It wasn't traveling fast, but the car left a substantial path of destruction.

'When the policeman ran through the store, he destroyed my carpeting, destroyed my tools and destroyed my windows,' Asbury said.

Desks were crushed or ruined, as were tables holding jewelry, chairs, frames and display art work. Shattered glass was all around.

In the aftermath of the accident, Asbury has rebuilt as quickly as possible. The first few weeks were the worst.

'If you were a customer, would you come into a store that was all boarded up?' she said.

This week, the store is about 75 percent finished. Asbury expects it will be another two months before the store is fully repaired.

She said she's been disappointed with the slowness of her insurance firm, Zurich, and what she feels is the city's lack of interest and support in getting her business back up on its feet.

'The police chief said everything would be taken care of,' she said, referring to Dan Duncan. 'This was when we were standing there with a cop car in my store. The chief apologized, but I haven't heard from anyone else at the city or the police department, to see how I'm doing and what they can do to help.'

Duncan said this week that he 'apologized profusely' at the accident scene.

To date, Asbury has received less than half of the $40,000 she needs to bring her business back to where it was before the crash. She's shelled out her own money to contractors, such as electricians and painters. Zurich paid for most of the costs to replace a vacuum press and a wall-mounted cutter. Still, she said she is doubtful she will be reimbursed for the total loss. Asbury's insurance adjuster did not return calls this week.

She said her insurance policy provides $300,000 coverage for damages to the store and possessions.

'Obviously, I'm well insured,' she said. 'I've been fighting to get my insurance to come through.' Asbury's insurance company initially reimburses her and then it will be reimbursed by the city's insurance company.

Asbury said the first week after the accident was the most difficult, because she lacked essential tools, such as the $7,000 vacuum press, to get keep up with customers' orders.

'A customer came in and wanted a project done, but I couldn't do it until I got the tools back,' she said. The customer wanted her to frame a photo of his father.

'He has since died and I feel so bad that I couldn't do anything more without the tools.'

The sting of losing business is made worse by Asbury's feeling that the city has not shown an interest in helping out. On the morning of the accident, Asbury got to the scene within 15 minutes. While the police chief was apologetic, she said 'The cops were laughing and I was not amused.'

'I don't think that was the case at all,' said Duncan. 'I didn't think it was funny in the least.'

Duncan said an investigation found that officer Gill had begun getting out of his car, without first putting it into park. The car began to roll, so he jumped in and attempted to hit the brake pedal but instead hit the accelerator. He said the department will take yet-undetermined sanctions against Gill, because it was driver error.

'We pulled a stupid,' said Duncan. 'It's our mess, so let's make it right.'

Despite the mess, Asbury hasn't considered leaving the location, where she's been for 17 years. Besides, she said, 'It's not the kind of business you can up and move. There's way too much stuff.'

She said she's been able to keep in touch with long-time customers and is hopeful that the last month of renovations, which has brought the store back to being operational, will bring new business. One friend brought Asbury a keepsake of sorts: A photo album containing shots he took of the police car in her store.

She said she's grateful that her dog, Miss China, was not hurt. The accident happened on a Monday morning, as Miss China was getting her pre-scheduled bath.

Just after the accident, Asbury's loyal customers contacted her - to find out about Asbury and the dog.

'Everybody was calling to make sure Miss China was OK,' she said.