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Bedford Heights — Three miles. Seven minutes.
That’s how far Deborah J. Pearl of Twinsburg was from her destination Aug. 27 when police say a 29-year-old North Ridgeville man blew through a red light and struck Pearl’s car with enough force that his car rolled over several times, finally resting on its hood near the intersection of Richmond and Solon roads.
Pearl was going to work — early — like she did every day.
In her nearly five years as head cook at the Harley Diner, inside South East Harley Davidson, 23105 Aurora Road, in Bedford Heights, Pearl hadn’t missed a day, and she was never late.
Chris Meyers, operations manager for the Harley-Davidson dealership, said Pearl was the first person in the door every morning. The two would chat when he went to the diner for his morning coffee.
“She was always so positive,” he said. “She was a real spiritual person and she’d be listening to gospel music every morning. It was nice. Debbie was just a wonderful lady. I’m going to miss the short conversations we had.”
Pearl was three miles from the safety of her work family when witnesses say Matthew Ryan Desha, 29, of North Ridgeville, crawled out of his overturned car after the collision, holding a Stag Arms AR-15 rifle.
Police say he then shot Pearl several times.
By the time Pearl would have been well into the Saturday breakfast rush, she was being rushed to University Hospitals Bedford Medical Center. She died at 8:18 a.m.
Meyer said he is making counselors available at the dealership for his employees Aug. 30. He plans to host a fundraiser for Pearl’s family, although there hasn’t yet been time to hash out the specifics.
“We have to carry on, but it’s hard,” said Diana Allie, Pearl’s boss and friend. “We’re a very close-knit group. We share each others’ lives and it’s going to be very difficult to be without her.”
Pearl had an infectious laugh, and those around her heard it often.
“She was a wonderful person with a big heart,” Allie said. “She was deeply religious. Her church meant a lot to her. She was so happy and so loving. She had a forgiving nature. That showed in her everyday life and her interactions with people.”
And, Pearl loved to dance.
“When we were slow, we would dance around the kitchen,” Allie said. “We had a lot of good times here. A lot of love, a lot of life.”
As a boss, Allie said she was always able to depend on Pearl.
“She did a hell of a good job,” she said. “She was really dedicated to putting out good food. I’ll never be able to replace her.”
Pearl has three grown children, one of whom would visit her at the diner.
“He definitely loved his mother,” Allie said. “Her [fiancé] would come up to see her all the time. He adored her. He called her his baby.”
Allie said she knew when she arrived at work Aug. 27 that something was wrong.
“She was always the first one in,” Allie said. “It was our busiest morning and I knew something bad had happened because she would never not show up.”
Someone came into the diner and reported that Pearl’s car had been involved in an accident.
“We were kind of hoping we’d hear from her soon, that maybe she was just shook up, but that wasn’t the case,” Allie said, choking back tears.