ST. PETE BEACH — Rick Falkenstein was in the back of his Hurricane Seafood Restaurant Saturday night when he heard squealing tires, screams, cracking wood and smashing glass. And then eerie silence.
"I've been in this business since I was 8 years old," said Falkenstein, 58, whose family has owned the iconic restaurant since it opened in 1977. "I've never seen anything like it."
A car had crashed into the Hurricane, pinning a patron who was waiting on the patio for a table.
Kenneth F. Hearn, 56, of Newfoundland was drunk when he pulled into a curbside parking spot about 8:30 p.m. and hit the gas pedal instead of the brake, police said.
Hearn's gray Ford sedan hopped the curb, drove over about 10 feet of sidewalk and grass, smashed through a small white wooden fence, vaulted a bush and crashed onto the Hurricane's patio, finally stopping when it slammed into one of the restaurant's support beams.
Hearn, who told police he'd been drinking that day, hit a man who had been in the outdoor seating area. Several patrons rushed to the car, lifted it and pulled the man out.
The man, whose name was not released, was taken to Bayfront Medical Center with what police described as nonlife-threatening injuries.
It could have been worse, Falkenstein said Sunday. A 3-year-old girl had been sitting in a highchair just a few feet from where the car crashed, and the usually crowded sidewalk was empty when Hearn hit the gas pedal. "By some blessing of the man above, there weren't many families walking around there at the time," Falkenstein said.
Hearn told police he'd been drinking beer "most of the day but moderately," according to an arrest report. He skipped lunch, he told police, but he had eaten some peanuts with his beer. He took Breathalyzer tests to measure his blood-alcohol level and registered 0.15 and 0.14, above the threshold of 0.08 at which Florida law presumes someone is impaired. Hearn was arrested on a charge of DUI crash involving injuries, a misdemeanor. He was released Sunday morning from the Pinellas County Jail after posting a $500 bail.
The Hurricane, at 809 Gulf Way, is a three-story restaurant in the Pass-A-Grille district overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.
The man who was injured Saturday night had been sitting on a bench with his back to the street, Falkenstein said. His legs were trapped underneath the bench and he was bleeding from the head. Witnesses said Hearn appeared distraught.