Kendra Conlon, WTSP 11:06 p.m. EST February 24, 2015
Ruskin, Florida — The charter boat captain who ran aground and into a restaurant Monday has been cited for reckless operation of his 39-foot boat in dense fog.
Investigators believe Matthew Santiago, 31, had been driving too fast in foggy conditions and beached the boat with 7 people on board.
The boat remains stuck Tuesday night in the back of the Sunset Grill at Little Harbor in Ruskin. Crews are stabilizing the roof, so a crane can come in to remove the boat on Wednesday.
“It’s a life lesson. Slow it down, proceed with caution big time. It’s a wake-up call for all of us,” says Ruskin charter fishing captain Oliver O’Riordan with Fishing Charters Tampa.
O’Riordan says the crash never should have happened. He knows in the fog to rely on his GPS and ease up on the gas. “In the fog, I back way, way down. We are at an idle at some points out there today,” O’Riordan says.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission investigators say Santiago with the Tampa Bay Fishing Guide Association didn’t do that. FWC adds Santiago had both GPS and radar on the boat, yet headed right for the restaurant.
“It appears the operator was traveling the channel directly toward the restaurant, and unfortunately failed to make the turn leads to the channel further south,” says FWC spokesman Baryl Martin.
Customer Laura Bailey tells 10 News that she had been sitting outside at the Sunset Grill with her family having dinner, when the boat appeared out of the dense fog and ran right into the restaurant – just feet away.
“The boat just emerged from the fog going 50 miles per hour,” says Bailey. “They just had enough time to brace themselves. They didn’t turn off the engine. They didn’t try to slow down at all and I just ran right into the shore,” Bailey says.
10 News tried calling Santiago and was hung up on, twice.
Records show Santiago has been fined for speeding through a manatee zone, not having proper safety equipment on board, and operating with an expired license.
The Coast Guard will determine whether his captain’s license will be revoked.
Bailey can’t believe that with 7 people on board and a restaurant busy during the dinner time rush, only 2 people had minor injuries.
“No one was killed. If there would’ve been more people on the beach, there just wasn’t time to move they were going so fast,” says Bailey.