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Boat plows into Ruskin restaurant in dense fog

Officials said this boat was traveling 40 to 50 mph when it crashed ashore Monday and into the Sunset Grille restaurant.
Published Feb. 25, 2015

RUSKIN — As fog shrouded the coastline Monday, a 39-foot boat crashed onto the shore in front of the Sunset Grille in Little Harbor, sliding across a broad beach and splintering part of the restaurant.

The crash happened about 5 p.m. Minor injuries were reported, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman said. Seven people were on the boat and one was taken to a hospital.

The person driving the boat "just kept going straight and never turned,'' said witness Bob Schafer, 50, an ironworker visiting from Pennsylvania with his wife, Jackie Schafer. The couple were fishing on the pier behind the restaurant when they saw the boat approach. Then it disappeared in the fog and they could only hear the crash.

Jessica Haedrich, 12, described it as "something shattering, like plastic crunching." She and her sister, Alyssa Haedrich, 15, had just arrived from Duluth, Minn., with their family and were walking through the parking lot, exploring. One minute, there was a blank wall of fog. The next, there was a boat mowing through the sand and slicing into the building.

The sisters ran onto the beach and saw kayaks smashed and chairs flipped. There were dark scrapes in the sand and a hole in the roof line where the boat's antennae had punched through.

The four-engine boat was traveling 40 to 50 mph, said Nacole Revette, a Hillsborough County Fire Rescue spokeswoman. She said firefighters shored up the restaurant roof so they could remove the injured passenger safely. While authorities wrapped a perimeter of yellow tape around the restaurant, one boater drove the injured passenger to a hospital.

No alcohol was suspected. The fog appeared to be a major factor in the crash, said Baryl Martin, a Fish and Wildlife spokesman. The boaters' names were not released. An investigation is ongoing, Martin said.

About two hours after the crash, the scene cleared. The fog grew darker and heavier by the shoreline, and the boat sat in its landing spot, where it was expected to remain until this morning.

Contact Zack Peterson at zpeterson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3368. Follow @zackpeterson918.

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