TAMPA — Mary Wright, 74, was thrilled Sunday night to see her grandson marry his longtime sweetheart in a beautiful, white wedding at the waterfront Rusty Pelican Restaurant.
Thrilled, that is, until she found herself with a stranger's hands around her neck — amid a sprawling melee involving 30 to 40 wedding guests that resulted in a flying brick, the appearance of a gun, a call to the cops and, inevitably, a bride in tears.
"Things were happening and I was confused," Wright said. "I don't know what really set it off."
The trouble started about 9 p.m. This is what police say happened:
The party was coming to an end. The groom, Markeith Brown, was throwing dollar bills onto the dance floor as kids scurried to gather them — "makin' it rain," the rappers call it.
One guest didn't like that. Brown and his brother didn't like the criticism. They confronted the guest.
Push came to shove. More guests took sides. Shoves came to punches. The brawl spilled into the parking lot at 2425 Rocky Point Drive.
Someone called the cops.
One man, reportedly intoxicated, was knocked down by a brick to the head, witnesses told police.
Several errant blows landed on Officer Mike White as he tried to separate the combatants.
The fight then moved to the parking lot of the Residence Inn at 4312 Boy Scout Blvd. — more than four miles away.
Police say someone called Malcolm Anthony Hepburn, a 30-year-old convicted felon with a 20-page rap sheet and a stolen gun. The caller told him the groom and his brother had hit Hepburn's cousin with a brick.
Hepburn showed up at the hotel and approached the groom's father, 47-year-old Andrew Thompson, and Grandma Wright.
Hepburn took a swing at Thompson as Wright watched it all unfold.
"Y'all need to stop that," the grandmother yelled. "Why are y'all doing this?"
She felt hands grab her neck from behind. It was a woman she didn't know, who had come with Hepburn. "I'm gonna choke you out," she remembers the woman saying.
Police say Thompson was lying on the floor, Hepburn kicking his face and ribs, when an officer arrived.
The officer arrested Hepburn and seized the gun, which had been reported stolen in Manatee County. Police charged him with felony battery, carrying a concealed firearm, grand theft of a firearm, and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Hepburn would bail out of jail the following day with $13,500.
The man hit by the brick refused to cooperate. The grandma-choker was later identified, but not immediately arrested. Thompson suffered bruises and a possible broken nose and ribs.
And the bride cried.
"She was very upset and her mom was very upset," Wright said.
The groom, out of prison for less than a month after serving a nine-month sentence on cocaine charges, was not arrested. He and his bride, 34-year-old Tasha C. Johnson, are on a honeymoon cruise.
His grandmother told him to go and to try to forget what happened. She said Monday that her neck is fine, but her memories of the wedding are marred.
"Young people," Wright said, "are so stupid these days."
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Alexandra Zayas can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3354.