News 12 at 6 o’clock / Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014
AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW) At Frank Petroccitto's restaurant in Aiken, something is missing.
"This has been devastating for all of us,” says Petroccitto, the owner of Mario’s Italian Kitchen near Crosland Park in Aiken.
On Wednesday, beloved manager Ralis Tucker didn't show up to work. Guests were asking for her by name, but Petroccitto wasn't fretting until he heard news of an accident not too far away.
"A black cloud came over the restaurant. I started calling people. Of course, some customers were in here. They too were devastated,” he says.
The South Carolina Highway Patrol confirms Tucker as the driver of a Jeep Cherokee. Around lunchtime on Wednesday, troopers say her car drifted into opposing traffic on an icy Edgefield Highway near the intersection of Shiloh Church Road. A Chevrolet pickup struck her head on.
"She's in for a long, long haul and a lot of pain for a very long time,” Petroccitto says.
The driver of the Chevy suffered minor injuries, but that wasn't the case for Tucker. Georgia Regents Medical Center says she's still in serious condition. On Facebook, her boyfriend reports that she’s stable but still not responsive.
"Ralis is the most sensitive, most beautiful, most sincere person anyone could ever meet,” says Petroccitto.
Petroccitto and his friends are trying to help. After putting the idea to Facebook, he plans to collect donations for his manager.
"When I saw [News 12] in the parking lot, I could not believe that someone actually is listening, but it goes to show you what a wonderful person she was,” he says tearfully.
Petroccitto says anyone interested in helping pay medical bills and other costs for Tucker can donate to the ‘Ralis Tucker Relief Fund’ (Account # 090148719909) at any First Citizens bank location.
She'd just been promoted to manager at Mario's Italian Kitchen, where donations can also be dropped off.
Owner Petroccitto is still hopeful. He says he knows his manager will be coming back.
“Anyone that has come to Mario’s knows Ralis by her upbeat, outgoing personality and her eagerness to help others,” adds waitress Natalie Zabrzenski. “I have offered to donate my wages to help pay for the hospital expenses. I know my offerings, alone, are not measurable, but everyone who contributes will help.”