Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Burning boat forces evacuation at Hooters Port Richey

PORT RICHEY — Jay and Tammy Baker were enjoying chicken wings and onion rings with their two young children Tuesday evening as the sun set over the Pithlachascotee River. They watched the boats pass over the crystal water.

One of them, an older power boat which looked to be about 20 feet long, left a nearby marina after filling up with gas. It stopped in the middle of the channel about 5:30 p.m., about half a mile away. It started smoking.

The couple on the boat dropped anchor and went back to the source of the smoke. At first it just looked like exhaust, but it kept getting darker and thicker. Some witnesses reported seeing the white puff of a fire extinguisher.

Jimmy Barry, 46, an unemployed truck driver who was watching from the Hooters deck, saw the smoke and thought the boat would burst into a fireball at any moment. He called the assistant manager, Jack Wagner, who called 911.

It smelled like burning plastic, which meant an electrical fire to Joe Evans, 47, an unemployed heavy machinery operator watching from the park.

The smoke turned black. Two people jumped overboard and swam to shore.

A ship from Suncruz Casino chugged toward the burning boat, armed with a garden hose, trying to put out the fire. But it couldn't get close enough.

Neither could the Port Richey fire engines, blasting water from the shore where the boaters had washed up. Their streams couldn't reach the flames, and the wind blew the shower right back at them.

Now the Hooters diners could see the orange flames and hear them crackle. Then the fire burned through the anchor line.

The boat started drifting. The wind carried the flaming vessel straight toward Hooters. The customers would have to evacuate.

They did so in an orderly fashion; after all, said Rob Young, 64, they all knew it was coming and had been watching it for half an hour. The Bakers tried to finish up their food, and carried their drinks out with them.

The firefighters rolled their hoses out to the dock as the boat, still smoldering, drifted between the two piers. The hose started pumping, but the wreckage stubbornly kept burning. Then the surface of the water, seeping with gasoline, caught fire too. The smoke was a solid column of black until, finally, it stopped.

The boaters, a middle-aged man and woman, were interviewed by police, who would not release their names while the investigation is still open. The Pasco County Sheriff's Office and U.S. Coast Guard are also involved.

The couple declined to comment for this article.

"I'm very upset," the man said. "I've been through a lot — I just had to swim to shore."

All that was left of their boat was a twisted rail and charred hunk of fiberglass. The piers, now cordoned off with caution tape, were slightly singed. The water in front of Hooter's was thick with gasoline and debris, and the bar was covered in foam from the firefighting equipment.

Steve Walker, Hooters' general manager, said he may sue the boaters for damage to the dock and lost sales in the restaurant. Wagner estimated the losses from people who didn't return to pay their checks at $1,350.

The restaurant reopened at 6:20 p.m. A few minutes before 7, a quartet of retirees who had been waiting for their wings and burgers before the evacuation finally had them. It was worth the wait, they said.

Isaac Arnsdorf can be reached at or (727) 869-6232.

Burning boat forces evacuation at Hooters Port Richey 07/28/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 29, 2009 5:14pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman sells house for $3 million to new player

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman's multi-million Davis Islands home is staying in the Lightning family. Yzerman is selling his 6,265-square-foot house Monday to new defenseman Dan Girardi for $3 million.

    The Davis Islands home of Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman sold for $3 million Monday to Lightning defenseman Dan Girardi. | [Courtesy of Hi Res Media]
  2. Danny Rolling killed five in Gainesville 27 years ago this week


    The following story appeared in the St. Petersburg Times on October 26, 2006, the day after Danny Rollings was put to death. Also included are photos covering the period from the time of the murders to the day of Rollings execution.

    Rolling Executed

  3. Hernando commissioners propose tax-rate reduction as budget talks continue

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — The typical budget battle between the Hernando County Commission and Sheriff Al Nienhuis has largely been averted this summer, except for a dust-up over how the sheriff has accounted for federal inmate money. But a minor skirmish did break out this week.

    Hernando County Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes has suggested a small rollback in the proposed property tax rate for the 2017-18 fiscal year and proposes that it be equally shared by the county's operations and the sheriff.
  4. Trigaux: As Florida seeks top 10 status as best business state, red flag rises on workforce


    In the eternal quest to appeal more to business than other states, Florida's managed to haul itself out of some pretty mediocre years. After scoring an impressive 8 among 50 states way back in 2007, Florida suffered horribly during and immediately after the recession. Its rank sank as low as No. 30 only four years ago, …

    Florida's trying to make strides in preparing its high school and college graduates for the rapidly changing skill sets of today's workforce. But the latest CNBC ranking of the best and worst states for business gave Florida poor marks for education, ranking No. 40 (tied with South Carolina for education) among the 50 states. Still, Florida ranked No. 12 overall in the best business states annual ranking. [Alan Berner/Seattle Times]
  5. Florida: White man who killed black person to be executed

    State Roundup

    GAINESVILLE — For the first time in state history, Florida is expecting to execute a white man for killing a black person — and it plans to do so with help of a drug that has never been used previously in any U.S. execution.

    This undated photo provided by the Florida Department of Corrections shows Mark Asay. If his final appeals are denied, Asay is to die by lethal injection after 6 p.m. Thursday. Asay was convicted by a jury of two racially motivated, premeditated murders in Jacksonville in 1987.  [Florida Department of Corrections via AP]