OSPREY — A Venice woman taking her husband out for the first time in months felt the backlash of wearing masks in public.
They had been to a Sarasota business Sunday where Eliz Turk said she politely asked a man to adhere to six-feet of social distancing.
He started screaming at her, Eliz Turk said, the man telling her COVID-19 is a hoax.
Turk and her husband left the store abruptly.
Eliz Turk had previously been to Mad Moe’s in Osprey, appreciating its standards on social distancing and cleanliness in the year of COVID-19.
Her husband, George, has medical conditions that kept him away from public places in months.
“I say: ‘OK, babe, I think I found a place that can serve us safely.’”
On Sunday afternoon, they still wanted to support a local establishment, feel safe and have a meal outside of home. Both were wearing masks and sitting inside the restaurant about 4:30 p.m.
That’s when a couple that was being kicked out of the establishment, for apparently being belligerent, accosted them.
“We were just sitting there totally minding our own business and they just came up to us,” Eliz Turk said. “We weren’t doing anything.”
But Eliz and George Turk were wearing masks.
And as the woman started yelling, Eliz Turk asked her to step back six feet for social distancing. It didn’t go well.
“I was afraid because she was like really loud and pointing at us and screaming at us: ‘What are you wearing masks for? You don’t need to be wearing masks!’ And that’s when she literally took both of her hands and rubbed them in counter-circles all over our table and menus,” Eliz Turk said.
Eventually the couple, described as nicely dressed and in their 50s, left the restaurant but continued to scream — even once they were in their Mercedes-Benz.
Eliz Turk, worried they were intoxicated and concerned they may have gone to get a weapon, called 911. But the couple sped off, the woman flipping up her middle finger. Turk was able to get the license plate — a vanity plate — and gave it to a responding deputy.
The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office report lists the event as a “disturbance.”
The silver Mercedes-Benz with the vanity plate is listed out of New Jersey with no local address, the report states. Because of that, authorities were not able to make contact with them for their statement on the event. The officer noted witness concerns about the driver’s ability to drive but wrote in the report that: “Without knowing where they went, I cannot do a welfare check.”
Turk described them to the Gondolier as appearing “drunk out of their minds.”
The Sarasota County Sheriff’s report also states “no crime” was reported, although Eliz Turk believes in this day of COVID-19 — with her husband’s medical situation — for someone to rub their hands on and near others, intentionally, could be a crime.
“The officer said: ‘I can’t arrest someone for touching your table and menu,’” Eliz Turk said. “They should have arrested them for assault.”
Turk said she discussed the case with a friend who is a prosecuting attorney in another part of Florida who suggested a case could be made.
Turk praised Mad Moe’s workers for how they handled the situation, saying both the manager and waitress were doing the right things and apologetic for the behavior of the Mercedes-Benz couple. She said the Mad Moe’s staff was “genuinely so good.”
Mad Moe’s officials had little to say about the incident.
“I know the police were called and the police did what they needed to do,” co-owner and manager Peter Geno said Tuesday.
Geno noted he wasn’t working at the time so he wouldn’t elaborate on what he didn’t witness. He said a video of the incident was taken, but said it would not be released to the media at this point.
Eliz Turk noted the irony of people having stayed at home for months because of COVID-19 who want to venture out must now be concerned about how others may react toward face coverings.
“We can’t go out into our community without being afraid of being assaulted for wearing a mask?” she asked. “That was absolutely an assault.”