Thursday, January 18, 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.

Comments
‘All I see is fire’: 911 calls released from Florida casino boat fire

‘All I see is fire’: 911 calls released from Florida casino boat fire

PORT RICHEY — The first call came into emergency dispatch at 4 p.m. on Sunday from shore, reporting a ‘giant’ boat on fire in the Pithlachascotee River."It’s urgent," the caller said.Others followed quickly, one woman crying as she described from her...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Gibsonton man faces 50 counts of child porn

Gibsonton man faces 50 counts of child porn

GIBSONTON — A 46-year-old man was arrested Wednesday by Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents on 50 counts of possession of child pornography and one count of promoting a sexual performance by a child.Authorities said they received several tip...
Updated: 8 hours ago

He still has nightmares: Deckhand recalls prior casino boat fire

Cory Byrd said he still has nightmares about the smoke. In them, he is back in the cabin of the Express Shuttle II, scrambling to reach the white rectangle of an open door. The smoke was so thick, he said, you could barely see an outstretched hand. ...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Pinellas sheriff, feds announce changes to controversial immigrant detention policy

Pinellas sheriff, feds announce changes to controversial immigrant detention policy

LARGO — For years, county sheriffs in the United States have faced a quandary when asked by federal officials to hold undocumented immigrants in their local jails. They could continue to hold them for up to two days past the time they were legally fr...
Updated: 9 hours ago
McDonald’s manager gets ovation at Seminole Heights investigation ceremony

McDonald’s manager gets ovation at Seminole Heights investigation ceremony

TAMPA — Delanda Walker, the McDonald’s employee who gave police the tip that led to an arrest in the Seminole Heights slayings, received a standing ovation Wednesday during a ceremony thanking citizens who helped in the investigation.Mayor Bob Buckho...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Casino company set to sail again Thursday after deadly boat fire

Casino company set to sail again Thursday after deadly boat fire

PORT RICHEY — Tropical Breeze Casino Cruz said it plans to reopen on Thursday and resume shuttling passengers back out to its gambling vessel in the Gulf of Mexico three days after a boat fire forced 50 passengers and crew to abandon ship.The 72-foot...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Man robbed while responding to Craigslist sex ad

Man robbed while responding to Craigslist sex ad

HOLIDAY — A man responding to a Craiglist ad for sex was instead robbed by the boyfriend of the woman he was meeting, sheriff’s deputies said. Robert Roser, 39, of Holiday claimed he was part of a police sting operation before taking $60 and two blue...
Published: 01/17/18

Teen, 14, arrested on charges of bringing loaded gun to Plant City High School

PLANT CITY — A 14-year-old high school student was accused of bringing a loaded gun to campus on Tuesday, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies arrested the boy after 3 p.m. at Plant City High School after administrators foun...
Published: 01/17/18

Plant City family attacked, robbed during early-morning home invasion

PLANT CITY — A 63-year-old woman was unloading items from her car when two men forced her into home at gun-point and threatened to kill her and her family, according to Plant City police. The woman arrived to her home on the 2700 block of Barrett Ave...
Published: 01/17/18
Deputies release name of homicide victim in Tampa’s Grant Park neighborhood

Deputies release name of homicide victim in Tampa’s Grant Park neighborhood

Hillsborough County deputies are conducting a homicide investigation after a man was found dead in the Grant Park area of Tampa late Tuesday or early Wednesday morning.Deputies say 22-year-old Elijah Moore’s was found in the 3700 block of Carroway St...
Published: 01/17/18