By Carlos Sadovi, Dan Hinkel, and Rosemary R. Sobol
8:00 PM EDT, October 8, 2012
The man accused of killing a Bears fan in a Jacksonville, Fla. restaurant and bar "coldbloodedly" cut William Pettry's throat after seeing Pettry talking to his wife, police said today.
Matthew Hinson, 27, "became jealous, enraged, whatever you want to call it and approached our victim," Jacksonville County Police Lt. Rob Schoonover told a news conference. "He calmly and basically coldbloodedly cut the victim's throat and calmly walked out of the restaurant."
Police caught up with Hinson as he was pulling out of the restaurant parking lot in his truck early Sunday morning. "He resisted a little bit, they had to put him to the ground," Schoonover said, explaining the cuts and bruises in Hinson's mugshot.
Pettry, of Lake Villa, was in Jacksonville for the Bears game but police said sports rivalry had nothing to do with what happened.
"When he (Hinson) showed up, he found out that our victim and a friend were talking with his wife and another lady," Schoonover said.
Witnesses told police Hinson and Pettry were "sitting on a bench inside the bar" when Hinson "stood up, cut him (Pettry) and walked out," Schoonover said, making a cutting motion across his throat with his finger. He described the murder weapon as “a little pocket knife.”
Hinson, from Jacksonville, admitted to the stabbing after his arrest but did not tell police why. Hinson has been charged with murder and is being held without bail.
Hinson, who told police he had previously served in the military, until Sunday had never been arrested by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office which has jurisdiction over the city, said department spokeswoman Melissa Bujeda.
A search of Florida arrest and court records only turned up traffic-related offenses in Duval and Clay counties in the Jacksonville area. Hinson pleaded no contest to a charge of driving under the influence in Clay County in June 2006, according to court records.
Pettry had left on a flight from Milwaukee Friday to attend the Bears game in Jacksonville and was excited to be making the trip with his best friend, according to his cousin, Quincy Asbury Jr.
Pettry was an avid Bears fan who was too busy working at his construction and remodeling company and helping raise his three children to find time to go to games in Chicago, Asbury said. Pettry's stepfather recently died and Asbury last saw his-first cousin at the man's wake.
"He was such a huge Bears fan. . .He never got to go to the Bears game, he never got to enjoy it," said Asbury, who can't understand how anyone would want to hurt him. "He was always the guy that made you laugh."
The attack occurred around 12:30 a.m. Sunday at Fionn MacCool's Irish Restaurant & Pub, an upscale restaurant about a block from the hotel where Pettry was staying -- the same hotel where the Bears team was also staying.
Asbury, a River Grove police officer, said he spoke with Pettry's best friend after the stabbing and said he still doesn't understand what happened.Police said in a press release that Pettry was involved in a "disturbance" with two other people shortly before 2 a.m. at the restaurant in Jacksonville Landing.
The best friend, 42-year-old Nick Viverito of the Northwest Side, was still making his way home from Florida Monday night said he still couldn’t believe he had to see his best friend of nearly 40 years lying dead inside a bar.
“It’s hitting me in waves…I’m still trying to get my head around it,’’ said Viverito, who works at a bank and who grew up with Pettry in the city after they met in grade school.
Viverito said he was seated with Pettry and a couple at a outside table, enjoying the evening while laughing and socializing with other patrons, many of whom were from the Chicago area.
They saw Hinson, who was with his wife and another woman, as they were waiting for inside seating. Casual introductions were made and they briefly chatted.
“The only time we talked to them is when they were standing around waiting for a seat,''Viverito said. “We were not hitting on the girls. We didn’t’ buy them drinks -- it was just small talk at the bar,’’ Viverito said.
The suspect and the two women went inside the bar once their table was ready. A while later, Pettry went inside also to get drinks and use the washroom.
But after 20 minutes had elapsed, he began to wonder where he was.
“What happened inside I don’t know,’’ Viverito said.
“Then the waitress came up and said: ‘Hey, your friend he’s not breathing in the bar -- he’s full of blood,’’’ Viverito said.
“I just ran into the bar and there I saw him lying in the pool of blood.’’
A group of nurses who were dining at the restaurant were trying to resuscitate him and stop the bleeding.
Viverito said he wasn’t even thinking about how he’d gotten hurt at that point.
“That wasn’t even in my mind -- my thoughts were with Chris.’’
Viverito said detectives told him later that a camera inside the bar filmed the incident.
Viverito said he has no idea what could have made the man stab his friend.
“Why?” I mean what’s the point of doing something like that?’’ Viverito said. If you’re mad at somebody just walk away.’’
Viverito began choking up while talking about Pettry's family and three children.
“He was a great guy,'' Viverito said.
On her Facebook page, Pettry's wife Karen said she was shocked by the news and searching for answers.
"I'm so numb and I still can not believe it is true," wrote Karen Pettry. "Today my husband William Christopher Pettry (Most of you only know him by Chris) was taken from his family way too early."
"Some idiot has taken his life. Im so mad, just don't understand why, very lost right now," she wrote. "Please hug the ones you love because you never know if tomorrow you will have that chance."
The killing happened at an Irish-themed restaurant and bar in a development along the St. Johns River in downtown Jacksonville.
The restaurant was busy but not packed early Sunday morning as patrons – many of them in Bears gear – ate and drank while a classic rock cover band played, said Paul Glaser, general manager of Fionn MacCool’s.
Glaser said he was in the dining room when he heard someone yell to dial 911, which he did, he said. The killing happened on a bench in a waiting area near the entrance, Glaser said, and some patrons, including nurses who were in the restaurant, tried to stop the bleeding.
“There was a lot of activity and there was a lot of people that tried to step up and actually save Mr. Pettry’s life,” Glaser said.
The killing marks the first serious violence in what Glaser described as a “family restaurant” since it opened last year, he said. The restaurant is arranging for counselors to talk with any staff members upset by the killing, he said.
Bears coach Lovie Smith extended the team's condolences.
"We had a lot of people that came down to support us. Chris Pettry is one of them," Smith said at a news conference today. "One of our loyal supporters that was killed as he came to Jacksonville to support his favorite team. So our prayers definitely go out to his family."
Tribune reporter Vaughn McClure contributed to this story.
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