SEFFNER — As Chris Stapleton frantically searched through the debris that had been the kitchen of his sports bar, he saw the woman who just crashed a pickup truck into his restaurant, standing beside the wrecked Ford F-150.
She was smiling, smoking a cigarette and talking on the cell phone, he said.
"She never asked if anyone was okay or anything," said Stapleton, owner of Scoreboard Lounge at 11018 U.S. 92.
At 5:18 p.m. Thursday, Lena Singleton, 44, drove a 2006 Ford F-150 straight through the parking lot of the popular sports and karaoke bar and into the front wall of the building, said Deputy L. R. Parketon, the accident investigator with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
The collision injured five people in the bar's kitchen, but Singleton put the truck in reverse and tried to back out of the building, bashing a parked 2004 Corvette before getting trapped on a handicapped parking barrier, Parketon said.
Stapleton had been putting freon in his 9-foot-tall cooler when he heard the thunderous crash and saw a cloud of dust spread over the kitchen. A piece of wood with a nail sticking out snagged his right calf, but he said he was more concerned with the well-being of his staff.
"We had a girl (trapped under rubble) who was six-weeks pregnant but she was okay, she just went to the hospital as a precaution," Stapleton said.
In all, six people were taken to hospitals, including Singleton's passenger, the owner of the truck, said Sheriff's Sgt. Ted Lynn. That man was identified Ernest Singleton, of Woodbine, Ga.
Sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter was unable to say what his relationship was to the driver.
Lynn said no one had life-threatening injuries.
Singleton has been charged with driving under the influence with property damage and personal injury. Arrest records show her blood alcohol level measured as high as .201, 2 1/2 times the level at which state law presumes a driver is impaired.
She also lists her occupation as waitress at Mary's Miracle Restaurant, which is located about a mile west of the sports bar.
Singleton was ordered to pay more that $8,000 in November 2008 in an auto negligence lawsuit filed in Hillsborough County court. Circuit Court Judge Marva Crenshaw wrote that Singleton was "100 percent negligent for the automobile accident … of May 24, 2005."
Judy and David Ballard of Plant City said they were riding behind Singleton on U.S. 92 at Williams Road when she began swerving and slid into a ditch.
"She regained control of the truck after that, and then made a hard left turn into the restaurant lot real fast," David Ballard said. "There were no brake lights. I don't think she ever hit the brakes, she just crashed right into the building."
Confused about what they'd just seen, Judy Ballard told her husband to turn around while she dialed 911.
"I said 'There could be people hurt in there,' " she explained.
Looking over the yellow caution tape at smashed liquor bottles, sandwiches on the floor, toppled bar, plaster and concrete chunks flung about and gaping hole in his kitchen, Stapleton said he's just glad no one was seriously injured.
"Honestly, now that I know my staff will be all right, I'll try to have this place open by next Friday," he said.
Robbyn Mitchell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3373..