Thanks to a telephone tipster, the Hawkins County Sheriff's Office on Thursday identified the woman who allegedly attempted to leave the all-you-can eat catfish supper at Sandy's Diner in Bulls Gap last Friday evening with a fried catfish in her purse.
The restaurant owner has opted not to press charges, however.
The incident happened last Friday at Sandy's Diner, 401 Highway 11-E, Bulls Gap, when diner employees allegedly witnessed the woman stuff her purse with catfish. When she went to pay her bill, she was told she would have to pay for the catfish in her purse as well.
The woman then reportedly became angry, threw money at the cash register, and stormed out.
When restaurant employee Tina Henry and owner Dwight Jenkins confronted the woman in the parking lot, the woman allegedly hit Henry in the back with a catfish that had been inside her purse and fled the scene with a male companion.
The 45-year-old female suspect was apparently overheard discussing the catfish incident by a person who later provided the HCSO with her name.
Sheriff Roger Christian said the woman's driver's license photo was positively identified by Henry and Jenkins. Deputies hadn't spoken to the woman as of Thursday evening, but Christian said they did leave a card on her door asking her to call the sheriff's office.
This catfish attack story, which initially appeared in the Times-News Tuesday, has been retold by news agencies across the region, state and country. The woman, who lives in the Hawkins County section of the Whitesburg community, could have faced charges including misdemeanor theft and simple assault.
Jenkins said Thursday he decided not to press charges, at least for now, but the woman will be banned from Sandy's Diner. Jenkins said the incident has brought him and the business so much media attention that he'd prefer it be forgotten.
"We've had so much publicity over this stuff, they've called us from everywhere," Jenkins told the Times-News Thursday afternoon. "Louisiana, California, ‘The "Jerry Springer Show' - and Channel 5 sat up here for eight hours the other day. It's all over the Internet everywhere.
"We just told them (the sheriff's office) to tell her she wasn't welcome anymore. It's all you can eat, not all you can carry."
Despite the overwhelming publicity, Jenkins has maintained his sense of humor about the incident. He joked that he might need extra security on hand for today's regular Friday all-you-can eat catfish dinner.
"Somebody already made a sign and put it the window saying, ‘Flying Catfish Dinner, All you can Eat and Carry,' but they crossed the ‘carry' out," Jenkins said. "There's a fellow supposed to bring me a big catfish pillow, and we'll probably hang that in here. We might get some T-shirts made up."