ST. PETERSBURG — Raven Smith doesn't usually take a gun to Applebee's.
But something made him reconsider Sunday night as he held his .380 caliber weapon in his hand, about to leave it behind as he stepped out of his car to have dinner with his girlfriend, Ashley Tanner.
In a split second, he found himself firing the weapon at a masked stranger who rushed up behind Tanner with what looked like a gun.
"Get down, get down!" Smith yelled to Tanner. She ducked and he fired four shots at the stranger from less than 6 feet away, over the head of his crouched girlfriend.
The would-be robber was Anthony Lawrence Hauser, 17, of 3760 38th Ave. N, police said. He survived and was taken to a local hospital with four gunshot wounds.
Police charged Hauser with attempted armed robbery. Smith, 34, has a concealed weapons permit and will not face any charges. Police said he acted in self-defense.
"I've only had practice doing casual shooting, as a hobby," Smith said Monday. "It's completely different using it in a situation like this."
Smith and Tanner, 27, moved to St. Petersburg two weeks ago from Lake City. An airline mechanic, Smith moved around while working for Delta but decided to settle in St. Petersburg, where he was raised, and brought his girlfriend of six months.
About 10 p.m. Sunday, the couple drove to Applebee's at 4700 Fourth St. N. The restaurant was full so they parked in a dark area north of the building.
As the two got out, Smith pulled his gun from a pocket, considering whether to take it with him. He decided to keep it. In that instant he noticed a dark figure rushing toward Tanner and immediately felt "something wasn't right."
The figure, who was wearing a ski mask, moved as though he planned to grab Tanner's purse and maybe point the gun at her head, Smith said. Facing Tanner, with the would-be robber behind her, he instinctively raised his handgun and told Tanner to hit the ground.
"I saw orange flashes over my head," Tanner said. "And then my ears were ringing."
Smith recalled shooting the robber four times. He fell to the ground, then yelled to Smith: "Don't shoot me anymore!"
The robber pulled off the mask and told Smith his gun was fake. It was later discovered to be a fully loaded and operational .25 caliber automatic.
It all happened so quickly Tanner didn't have time to think — but is happy Smith was prepared.
"I don't know what would have happened if he hadn't had the gun," Tanner said. "He's my hero."
After the shooting, Smith flagged down a passing police officer. Hauser was taken to Bayfront Medical Center, police said.
Smith and Tanner were questioned at the scene and at the police station, Smith said. They got home after dawn, then woke up to reporters knocking on their door.
They never got around to eating.
This was the second incident of the weekend in which a would-be robber was shot in St. Petersburg.
Almedin Muratovic, 25, ended up at Bayfront Medical Center with serious injuries Friday night after he tried to rob a woman at an ATM, police said.
Anthony Hall of St. Petersburg was sitting in his car with his 5-year-old child near the Regions Bank ATM at 8250 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N when he saw Muratovic approach his girlfriend with a handgun, police said. He ran over and fought Muratovic for the gun, police said.
During the struggle, the weapon fired, hitting Muratovic, police said. Hall and his girlfriend were unharmed. Muratovic faces attempted robbery charges.
Other local business owners took notice of the shootings.
Michael Chan, owner of Hiro's Tokyo Steakhouse & Sushi Bar at 5250 Fourth St. N, learned about the Applebee's incident Sunday night after his wife passed by and saw police cars surrounding the restaurant.
Like Applebee's, Hiro's keeps late hours.
"We always keep an eye out for customers," Chan said. The parking lot is well-lit and security cameras surround the building, he said.
But Chan said there's only so much a restaurateur can do. He said his employees know to leave the building in groups at night after closing. But the key ultimately is just to try to be aware of your surroundings and take reasonable safety precautions.
"You never know," he said.
Times staff writers Rebecca Catalanello and Marissa Lang contributed to this report.