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Man killed after minivan crashes into Bealls at St. Pete shopping plaza

A woman who was inside the store said it felt the whole store was shaking after the van made impact, sending shoppers scurrying for the exit.

ST. PETERSBURG — A man was killed Saturday afternoon after his minivan crashed into a Bealls department store, police said.

Investigators have yet to determine what caused the crash, which occurred about 2:15 p.m. inside the popular Gateway Market Center shopping plaza at 7899 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

No one inside the store was injured, and no other vehicles appear to have been involved, police said.

Mladen Kravarusic crashed the 2013 Dodge Grand Caravan. According to investigators, the man was the only one inside the minivan when it bore through the back wall of the department store. He died from his injuries at the scene.

The Bealls store will be closed until authorities determine the extent of the damage to the building.

Erika Miller went to Bealls that afternoon to find a birthday card for one of her closest friends, but had just wandered into the ladies clothing section when she heard what sounded like an explosion in home goods, she said.

“There was this enormous, terrifying crash and rumbling sound like the whole store was shaking,” Miller said. “At first I thought something crashed through the roof because of the way it shook and there was this big cloud of dust in the back of the building. The lights were going on and off, the fire alarm was going off - it was like the whole store was going to come crashing down on top of us.”

For a moment, everyone inside the building was frozen in shock, Miller said. Then the shoppers started running for the exit door while employees sprung into action, keeping their cool amid the chaos, Miller said.

Outside, the stunned shoppers made their way to the back of the building to see what could have caused such destruction inside.

“When we ran out the front everything seemed perfectly normal, like nothing had happened at all," Miller said. “When you see that perfect square in the back of the building the physical damage doesn’t look that bad but the way the whole store just shook it seemed impossible it could have been something that small."

There weren’t any speed bumps in the back of the plaza, only a stop sign where drivers come in and out off Fourth Street North, Miller said. The scene seemed eerily neat and tidy.

“We couldn’t even see a car at all,” Miller said. “We just kept thinking he must have been going really fast to cause that kind of damage inside.”

“I’m still a bit shaken up by it - definitely shaken," Miller said. “After that I just wanted to go straight home. I’ve got no intentions of shopping at all."

Erika Miller, a teacher at Lakewood High School, was inside the Bealls department store on Saturday when a minivan crashed through the back wall, killing the driver. Miller photographed the damage from her car after the crash. [ Courtesy of Erika Miller ]