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"We need safer drivers:" Restaurant scraps outdoor seating after Matlacha crash

The owner of That BBQ Place told Fox 4's Matlacha Community Correspondent Colton Chavez about the traffic trouble the island sees, and what he's going to put on his front patio instead.
Posted at 8:06 PM, Apr 15, 2024

MATLACHA, Fla. — It was a moment that, John Petrus says, everything changed for the small island town of Matlacha.

“Still waters to chaos…in an instant,” Petrus told the Matlacha Community Correspondent Colton Chavez.

Petrus said he has owned, That BBQ Place since 2021, and said he was sitting outside on his patio with all five of the victims, moments before the car came crashing into the patio area.

State troopers say a 24-year-old Cape Coral man is accused of plowing into those patrons, as well as an unoccupied motorcycle before crashing into a pickup truck and coming to a stop Saturday night.

“I Got up when a group of people walked in and the accident happened a minute later. I was standing at the cash register on the other side of the window when the car hit the building,” said Petrus.

John Petrus owns That BBQ Place Matlacha crash April 13
John Petrus talked with the Matlacha Community Correspondent, Colton Chavez, about traffic challenges on the island, less than 48 hours after, state troopers say, a car plowed through his restaurant's front patio, killing one person and injuring 5 more.

“Where my chair was located I would have been the first one,” said Petrus.

It was 80-year-old Mary Lou Sharp who was hit instead. She didn't survive.

On Monday, Danielle Darna, who said Mary Lou is her grandmother, stopped outside That BBQ Place to place flowers for her grandmother.

Mary Lou Sharp Grand
Mary Lou Sharp's granddaughter shared this photo with Matlacha's Community Correspondent Colton Chavez, as she arrived with flowers to the scene where her 80-year-old grandmother died, in the front patio of a restaurant on Matlacha April 13.

“She had a smile that could light up a room,” said Darna. “I never thought I would get the call that something so tragic could happen because of somebody's silly mistake."

John Petrus said he has seen more drivers making these dangerous mistakes.

“ I am going to say this as bluntly as I can. We need safer drivers,” said Petrus.

“Where my chair was located I would have been the first one."

John Petrus, Owner of That BBQ Place

On Monday, seasonal homeowners on Matlacha like Mary Lemieux agreed.

“There are a lot of cars that don’t even stop for people on crosswalks,” said Lemieux.

As for Petrus, he says his back patio will have outdoor seating, but no longer will the front patio.

Instead, he wants to turn that area into a safer option, and a poignant one: a garden memorial.

Mary Lou Sharp victim Matlacha fatal crash April 13
Friends shared photo of the victim, Mary Lou Sharp, and her boyfriend, Butch. The 80 year old woman was killed when a driver plowed into outdoor seating outside a Matlacha restaurant on April 13.

“No one is going to let Mary Lou be forgotten because she is just part of this island," said Petrus.

Petrus said he is now looking for donations for planters so he can start this garden outside of his restaurant.