Chesterfield commends cinema employee for actions during storm

By Melissa Correa - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) – Two weeks ago the Regal Commonwealth 20 theater was under a tornado warning. Two hundred people were inside. That's when a quick-thinking manager made a potentially life-saving decision: she cleared out 20 theaters and moved everyone into the safest part of the building.

Today veteran manager Jennifer Matthews is all smiles as she shows off her new plaque.

"Your actions truly demonstrate that you care about the well-being of your staff and the citizens of Chesterfield County," said Curt Nellis, Emergency Management Coordinator for Chesterfield County.

Nellis and other county emergency responders commended Matthews for a decision she made during a severe storm August 5.

"One of our officers showed up to say that there was a tornado in the area," said Jennifer Matthews. "That was headed our direction."

The storm hovered during the 5:00 shift change. Two hundred people were in the theater at the time. Jennifer and her employees shut-off projectors and escorted people out of the 20 theaters.

Movie-goers could either hunker down in the hallway or a bathroom. They stayed out for the remainder of the weather alert- about 30 minutes

"We did have a few people that were very upset that their movies, they could not finish their movie," said Matthews. "At that point I really had to make a judgment call that it was for their safety."

Weather expert Bill Sammler says that was the right move.

"In a building like this you want to get as many walls between you and the outside as possible," said Bill Sammler with the National Weather Service.

Nellis says it's always best to be cautious, "imagine the alternative, had they not taken the action and a tornado came through. You'd be covering probably a catastrophe."

Jennifer tracked the storm online and over-the-phone. Today the county presented her with a weather radio.

"I was doing my job," said Matthews. I would do it any day. I'm responsible for every person that walks through this building."

Customers were issued passes so they can see the movie again.

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