Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Public safety

Victims recall chaos of Brandon Waffle House shooting

TAMPA — Anita Benoit always gave her daughter rules to stay safe: Stick with friends. Don't park in dark areas. Lock the car doors.

Her 16-year-old daughter, Princess Benoit, and three friends followed those rules early Saturday when they stopped at a Waffle House to pick up some food.

They parked near the well-lit door at the Brandon restaurant. Two went inside to get the food. Two waited in the sport utility vehicle. They locked the doors.

A diner emerged from the restaurant. He smirked and drew a gun. He fired round after round into the windshield of the SUV.

"The loud noises, shouting, screaming," Princess Benoit said Monday. "It was so much going on at one time, you don't know what to do, what to think, who to look for."

She was injured by flying glass. The driver, Briana Reddick 20, was hit by bullets as she ran and remains in the hospital.

Later, sheriff's deputies arrested Matthew Royce Laine, 22, and accused him of two counts of attempted second-degree murder. A judge ordered him held in jail without bail.

The Sheriff's Office said there is no evidence an altercation led to the shooting — that Laine simply opened fire. He has denied the accusations, the agency said.

The young women were hanging out at a friend's house down the road late Friday night when they decided to call in an order to the Lumsden Road restaurant.

When they went about 1 a.m. Saturday to pick it up, Benoit stayed in the passenger seat, Reddick in the driver's seat. Altaneisha Washington and Ashley Seller went inside to get the order.

The gunman stepped out of the restaurant just after Washington and Seller went in. Benoit said she didn't see him. She was slouched in the seat, fiddling with her phone. She heard shots and dived to the floor.

"I just went into a balled-up position," she said. "I heard it, I tried to look up, but it was all glass shattering."

Reddick later told her friends she saw the gunman stand in front of the SUV and look at the girls, Anita Benoit recalled. He casually pulled a gun from his pocket and fired 15 bullets.

When the shots stopped, Benoit darted from the SUV and behind the restaurant. She heard Reddick calling to her, she said, but couldn't see her.

Reddick ran, was struck, and crawled toward the curb.

Benoit ran inside to her friends, telling them to call the police. Someone from the restaurant went outside to stay with Reddick while they waited for help.

The scene was crazy, Benoit said. She didn't know what to do when she heard the shots — you can't outrun a bullet, she said, but you can duck and pray.

Inside, Washington, 19, didn't know what to think, either.

"I just remember getting out of the car and going inside to pick up food and hearing shots," she said. "I just dropped to the ground."

Reddick suffered gunshot wounds to her arm and leg. Benoit suffered cuts to her hands, arms, feet and legs. Washington and Sellers were uninjured.

Reddick and Benoit were taken to Tampa General Hospital. Benoit was released Saturday, and they expect Reddick to be released by the end of the week, Anita Benoit said.

Detectives are still trying to figure out what prompted the shooting. The four friends say they do not know Laine.

He had been eating inside the Waffle House before the shooting, the Sheriff's Office said, and was identified by a witness at the restaurant. He was detained early Saturday at his Riverview home.

Records show Lane is licensed by the state as a security guard. He submitted an application for a statewide firearms license but had not yet been issued one, the records show. His only prior arrest in Florida was a 2010 charge of battery on a firefighter that was dropped, records show.

Anita Benoit is grateful her daughter and her friends are going to be all right. It could have been much worse, she said — they could be planning funerals.

But she's angry, too. She wants to see the girls get through this, and then wants answers.

"I just want to know why somebody would do that," she said. "You basically just shot at children. What would make somebody do that?"

Times news researchers John Martin and Natalie Watson contributed to this report.

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