A 70-year-old man's scuffle Friday night with workers at a Disney Springs restaurant over the wait time for his food led to a chaotic scene that caused patrons to be trampled, the Orange County Sheriff's Office said.
Luis Antonio Ojeda-Reyes of Putnam County was waiting for his food at Bongos Cuban Café around 9:30 p.m. and asked to speak with a manager about the long wait time, an arrest affidavit said.
Two managers apologized for the wait and explained the restaurant was extremely busy because it was Christmas Day.
Deputies say Ojeda-Reyes started cursing and pushed one of the managers, which started a brawl inside the eatery. He got in the face of the restaurant's general manager and threw a punch but missed. Another employee jumped in to try to stop the confrontation.
Workers escorted Ojeda-Reyes out of the restaurant after he grabbed the manager's bicep, which left a mark. He was arrested a short time later in front of a Starbucks.
At some point during the chaos, patrons mistakenly thought they heard gunshots. The loud sounds caused patrons to start rushing to the exit nearly causing a riot, deputies said.
Ojeda-Reyes was seated on the second-floor patio, said Mark Weissberg, director of operations at Bongo's Orlando.
Employees tackled him to the ground when he got disorderly, and he knocked over a few tables in the process, Weissberg said.
"So the people on the first floor below heard noises that sounded like 'bang, bang,' and as a result some of them ran out and created the chaos," Weissberg said.
About 15 tables ran out without paying and did not return, he said.
Restaurant workers said no shooting had taken place, and deputies didn't find any evidence of shots being fired.
Ojeda-Reyes wasn't found with a gun or any weapon, the Sheriff's Office said. He is charged with battery.
Carolynne Larsen had just taken her first bites of Christmas dinner at Paradiso 37, just down the street from Bongos, when a hoard of about 100 people rushed into the restaurant screaming about a gunman.
The 43-year-old Wisconsin native didn't think twice when she grabbed her fiance and 15-year-old son and ran to the back entrance of the restaurant.
She said moments later about four or five loud pops rang out and transformed the hectic situation into even more of a chaotic mess that led to parents, kids and other guests being trampled.
"It was terrifying. When we heard those pops and everyone started yelling 'get down, get down, active shooter,' " Larsen said. "We really thought we were going to die."
She said tables and chairs were flipped as scared patrons ran through the restaurant, which left her and her son with injuries including scrapes, bruises and gashes on arms and legs. After hearing the loud pops, which she described as sounding like rapid gunfire, Larsen said everyone inside the eatery dropped to the floor.
"You could hear people crying and screaming," she said.
Larsen said people started crawling on the floor over people and children trying to make it out the door. Amid the chaos, Larsen said she got separated from her son, Randy.
"He was pretty distraught because he ended up by himself," she said. "He could hear me screaming his name across the restaurant."
Social media erupted with patrons sharing photos, videos and accounts of what happened. Several people said they were trampled on and needed medical attention.
Eric Ferrari, deputy chief at Walt Disney World Reedy Creek Fire, said they transported two people with injuries Friday that may have been related to the incident.
"I know we responded to help a child with a foot laceration from a piece of glass but there's no real way for me to know if that injury was related to this," he said.
Ferrari said they train for situations like this in case there is an active shooter.
"We definitely have plans in place for these types of situations and train with law enforcement to do drills and run scenarios," he said. "With the recent events in San Bernardino, we are always preparing."
Larsen, who was visiting Disney Springs for the first time, criticized how the situation was handled, especially when it came to crowd control. Larsen said she was never notified by any law enforcement officials that there was no evidence of a shooting.
Orange County sheriff's Capt. Steve Garrison said deputies tried to deescalate the situation once they found the reports of a shooting were unfounded.
"The national concept of Run-Hide-Fight is appropriate in an active assailant situation. However, panic is a problematic issue with crowds and it is difficult to intervene with the very human response of flight when there is danger," he said. "Once we determined that the shooting was unfounded, we began immediately notifying everyone."