This article was last modified on December 21, 2004.

The Tom Cruise Dairy Queen Incident

December 15, 2004, was the day Tom Cruise walked into a Lexington, Virginia Dairy Queen [1] and left $5,000 in a jar for 11-year old accident victim Ashley Flint. Cruise, who was joined by Steven Spielberg and about twenty others, apparently could not resist assisting this young girl upon seeing her photo on the jar. He removed one hundred fifty-dollar bills (some sources say fifty hundred-dollar bills, but this is inaccurate) from his wallet and stuffed them into the jar. Cruise and Spielberg were currently in Virginia filming the upcoming move, “War of the Worlds”.

Ashley had been involved in a go-kart accident on September 24, 2004 at her home in Buena Vista. The plea on the jar stated she had been through two head surgeries and was still recovering after trips to the UVA Hospital. She had torn a neck artery and fractured her skull. To make a bad situation worse, her mother suffered a heart attack on the way to the hospital and ended up in the emergency room, as well.

Ashley has since had a third surgery (with a fourth coming January 2005), and suffers amnesia – not even being able to recognize Cruise from a photograph. She was shown a magazine with Cruise, and giggled after stating “Wow, he’s hot,” but did not make the connection.

Ashley’s family was simply unable to afford the “mountain” of medical bills. Her mother had been off work since September to care for her daughter, and her mother’s boyfriend was getting concerned about the trips to the hospital in Charlottesville because they could not even afford to replace the bald tires of their 2001 Chevrolet Prism.

When asked, Ashley acknowledged she would love to meet Cruise in person and thank him for his help. “I’m going to say he’s really cute,” she said. Initially, though, she was less than thrilled because she had been woken up to hear the news. “My mom woke me up and told me and I was just kinda like, ‘Cool, I’m trying to get back to sleep’.” Her mother, Regina Cornwall, said, “We’re thrilled. We hope this will cover most of the bills.” Also, “I’m very grateful to Tom Cruise. I appreciate Tom Cruise. But I [also] appreciate anyone who put $1 in those jars.”

Jason Donald, who works at the ice cream parlor informed us that “the girl was a stranger and he made this amazing donation.”

Or at least this is the way the story was told to the general public. But questions remain: was this a publicity stunt? And just what did Cruise order?

A Publicity Stunt?

Eric Wulterkens, upon hearing the tale, immediately cried “bullshit” at the prospect that this was simply a heartfelt gesture. “Who carries that much money in cash on them?” he asked. While Wulterkens did not doubt that Cruise was concerned, he felt the move was equally a ploy to bring attention to Cruise (and perhaps, we might surmise, the upcoming film).

While Wulterkens raises some good points, an interesting thing to notice is that the NBC affiliate that reported the story was not actually on hand when Cruise deposited the money, but only told the story after the fact. This would lead us to believe the network was not “tipped off” by Cruise’s crew but rather heard of the event from other sources. Cruise only appears in the news segment from old footage.

Furthermore, this was not the first time Cruise had come across this donation jar. The buzz around town stated that as of December 16, 2004, Cruise had visited the Lexington Dairy Queen at least three times. On December 16, the store was specially opened up after closing time for Cruise, along with actress Penelope Cruz and their entourage [2]. Cruise explained to employee Brandy Carter that the West Coast did not have Dairy Queen and this was a limited opportunity for him.

Cruise was told by manager Wanda Woodward that he did not have to pay. Cruise protested, but eventually agreed to her idea of signing autographs instead. He further posed for photos and stood in front of the security cameras for an amateur film. Cruise’s talked with Woodward’s granddaughter Kaila about her love of animals, and even discussed acting with Carter, who is a senior theater major at Liberty University. “He still looked like the hottie of the decade,” Woodward said.

And Cruise is not new to random acts of kindness. We might recall in 1996 when he stopped to help hit-and-run victim Heloisa Vinhas (coincidentally an aspiring Brazilian actress), and afterwards even paid her hospital bills. We could chalk this up as another publicity stunt, but this author finds it more likely Cruise is truly a caring individual.

So, What Did He Order?

Jason Lane, a friend of Eric Wulterkens, was less concerned with Cruise’s motives and more focused on his appetite. “What kind of Blizzard did he get?” asked Lane. Indeed – just what did Cruise order the fateful day he donated to this young girl’s charity? The news reports are decidedly silent on this matter. We can speculate, though. During the December 16 stop, Cruise enjoyed a 730-calorie Peanut Buster Parfait (“He just loved it,” says Brandy Carter), as well as helping Cruz finish her 740-calorie Brownie Earthquake. Should we suppose that Cruise is a regular consumer peanut-buttery goodness?

This author is not content to speculate, and decided to ask the Dairy Queen staff directly. Upon calling the restaurant, I reached a young man with a Southern accent named Jason. Perhaps Jason Donald, though this is unconfirmed. I asked him if he was able to answer one or two questions concerning the Tom Cruise story, and he informed me the staff has been advised not to answer any questions and that all questions must be asked to manager Wanda Woodward directly. She was unavailable.

While we have succeeded in determining to a probable degree if Cruise was involved in a publicity stunt or not, we might never know what his creamy treat of choice was on that very magical day for one little girl.


[1] Specifically at 874 N Lee Hwy, Lexington.

[2] Those who follow the Hollywood gossip will remark that Cruise and Cruz split in January 2004, and have not been seen together since then. This is not a gossip piece, nor am I typically a writer of gossip, so I invite the reader to draw their own conclusions of this one.


Brown, Lee. “Tip Gun.” The Daily Record, December 20, 2004.

“Cruise donates a hundred $50 bills to charity jar in ice cream store” World Entertainment News Network.,0,6078801.story?coll=sfe-guide-headlines December 20, 2004.

“Cruise Leaves Big Tip For Accident Victim.” NBC4. December 17, 2004.

Jones, Beth. “Cruise’s DQ Habit Sparks Buzz” The Roanoke Times. December 17, 2004.

Jones, Beth. “Cruise plays hero at DQ.” The Roanoke Times. December 18, 2004.

Phone Call placed to (540) 463-1927 by the author on December 21, 2004 at 4:40p.m. Central Standard Time.

“Tom Cruise’s 6,600 dollar gift to accidented kid.” December 20, 2004.

Also try another article under Historical / Biographical
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

2 Responses to “The Tom Cruise Dairy Queen Incident”

  1. Wanda Woodward Says:

    Although I am now retired from the Food Service Industry, I have fond memories of my years spent as the G.M. of the Lex. DQ. Since I was not present the night Mr. Cruise donated the money for Ashley, I cannot tell you what treat he ordered that night. I can tell you what he ordered the night we served he and his friends (including his sister) and obtained his autograph. He ordered a small cone of vanilla soft serve dipped in chocolate. He made the comment, joking of course, that we could change the name of this treat on our Menu Board to “Cruise Missle”. He said that it was his favorite. I never heard him say there were no DQs out west, only that he did not get to visit one very often when he was at home. I think Brandy Carter must have misunderstood him on that point. Mr. Cruise, and everyone with him, were VERY polite, friendly, witty and thoughtful enough to speak and spend time with each of us. Mr. Cruise was nice enough to pose for quite a few pictures, as everyone there wanted one to take home to show their families. Penelope Cruz WAS NOT there!!! Mark that misinformation up to Brandy Carter also. She mistook one of the petite brunettes that were with him that night as Ms. Cruz. Hope this answers some of your questions.

  2. Esperanza Delre Says:

    Thanks for this excellent post. I absolutely enjoyed every little bit of it. I have you bookmarked and will be coming back.

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