It isn’t the food that brings people to Atlanta’s iconic Sun Dial restaurant. It’s the experience.
There’s the glass elevator ride up the side of the Westin Peachtree Plaza. A quick, breathtaking jolt up more than 70 stories. Then, there’s the tri-level restaurant, surrounded by glass. Every table offers a view of the city, and the revolving floor presents a panoramic view of the skyline.
And yes, there’s the food. For more than four decades, the Sun Dial has been the spot for first dates, prom dates and family outings. Easter, like most holidays, would normally bring droves of patrons.
But on Friday afternoon, the restaurant became a chaotic scene of screams and pleas for help. While having a late lunch with his family at a table beside the windows, 5-year-old Charlie Holt wandered across the aisle to another table and a rounded bench backed up against an inner wall shortly after 3 p.m. Somehow, the boy got his head stuck between the furniture and the wall.
“We heard a bunch of screams and people yelling and we didn’t know what was going on,” Gustavo Anzola told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Saturday.
Anzola, who lives in Cumming, said family members and friends were visiting from his native Venezuela, so a group of 10 went sightseeing Friday.
“I was actually giving them a tour of the city and downtown,” Anzola said. “We went upstairs to see the view.”
Anzola remembers pointing out the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium to his cousin just when the commotion started.
“We didn’t know if it was a robbery or someone with a gun, we didn’t know,” he said.
Even when he saw adults trying desperately to move a table, Anzola couldn’t imagine what had happened. There was a loud boom, and the famous rotating floor stopped, and Anzola could hear a boy’s cries.
“It was only his head stuck, nothing else,” Anzola said. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”
A friend from Venezuela, Marco Asuaje, doesn’t speak English, but has worked for 20 years as a first responder, Anzola said. Asuaje immediately rushed to help.
Instead of pulling the boy’s body, Asuaje urged others to help move the table to free him, Anzola said.
“We need people to push!” someone yelled, and Anzola jumped in.
As many as six people pulled the table as Asuaje used another piece of furniture almost as a lever to free the boy, who by then had lost consciousness.
“A few seconds later, he fell into his dad’s arms,” Anzola said.
The boy’s father attempted CPR on the boy before paramedics and police officers arrived. Charlie was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital, but did not survive. Anzola said he still can’t imagine how the boy had gotten stuck, and it was heartbreaking to watch.
“He must’ve put his head in that position just perfectly, perfect timing,” he said. “Everything came together perfectly for this kid to get himself in this position.”
His group of family and friends were devastated to find out Charlie had died, Anzola said. The restaurant closed after the incident and is expected to remain closed indefinitely, a spokesperson said Friday.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family,” hotel manager George Reed said in emailed statement.
The hotel did not respond to a request Saturday for additional information on the restaurant’s future.
Charlie’s family asked for privacy and prayers Saturday afternoon and declined to release a photo of the boy.
“No words can express their loss,” an emailed statement read. “If you have a loved one, please give them an extra hug today.”
At the hotel, soft music played through the lobby Saturday afternoon as guests tinkered on cellphones on the couches and sipped Starbucks from the in-house coffee shop. The exclusive elevators leading to the restaurant were closed, with ropes blocking entrance and sign apologizing for the inconvenience.
Mike and Susan Grove, in town to catch the Braves game Saturday night, found out about the boy’s death after checking in Friday with their grandsons, ages 1, 7 and 9.
“We were going to take them up there and let them look around. And it was closed,” the husband said. “That’s when we found out.”
LaTonya Norman, a Stone Mountain resident who is staying at the Westin for “getaway” with her boyfriend, called the Sun Dial magical.
“The ambiance of it. If you’ve never done it, it’s an experience,” she said.
She’d wanted to take her boyfriend, Sekou Fade, to the restaurant. Instead, she was heartbroken to learn of the boy’s death.
— Staff writer Joshua Sharpe contributed to this report.