Woman Tracked Down and Busted for Using Restaurant's Customers-Only Bathroom

Beth Greenfield, Shine Staff

When you gotta go, you gotta go. But sometimes, it’ll cost ya.

That was the lesson one woman learned, in a major way, after making a bathroom pit stop at a local restaurant in Erin, Tennessee.

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The bizarre tale began when Patricia Barnes stopped into the Flood Zone to use the restroom, which she did, before leaving without making a purchase. Then, a few days after her powder-room visit, Barnes received a handwritten note—mailed to her home—saying she owed the restaurant $5.

“I just feel like I’ve been violated,” she told WSMV-TV in Nashville, whose reporters broke the story last week after a several-month investigation (the incident occurred in late October). In addition, she said on the Today show Thursday, "I didn't feel it was a crime. I'd been in to plenty of restaurants here in this town, and other towns, and, you know, other states."

Turns out the local sheriff helped track Barnes down by running her license plate, all as a favor to the owner of the restaurant. The owner was miffed that the non-customer ignored a sign about the bathroom being for customers only, and that non-customers had to pay $5 for the privilege.

"She was one of these I'm-going-to-do-this-anyway kind of people," Flood Zone proprietor Lisa (who would not give her last name) told Yahoo! Shine. Barnes, she said, came into the restaurant, "looked up at the [wall] menu like she was going to order, said 'Let me just wash my hands,' stayed in the bathroom for, like, 20 minutes," and then left. Lisa explained that she'd only recently put up the sign about the $5 charge, and that it was in response to a broken toilet at the convenience store across the street sending "12 to 15 people a day" to her bathroom, which caused constant messes that no one had time to clean.

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But Barnes, who could not be reached by Shine, told WSMV-TV that she had first asked permission to use the facilities. 

Barnes said she wasn’t angry about the bill, which she attempted to pay, twice, and which the Flood Zone owners refused ("I would not take her $5," Lisa told Shine). What did upset her, though, was that the police shared her and husband Randy Edwards’ address with Lisa so she could mail the bill. The couple said they'd had a restraining order against someone in their past, and have been protective about their private information.

“People don’t have the right to just run your tags and give your information out to just anybody,” Edwards told WSMV. According to the Houston County Sheriff, Darrell Allison, though, it was no biggie.

“I would say that happens every day,” he told the TV station. “It’s a very common occurrence.”

But, countered local state Rep. John C. Tidwell, “The way I interpret it, it would be illegal,” he said, explaining that license plate information is to be used only for law enforcement purposes. “The information should not have ever been given over to the business. That is information that is supposed to be dealt with by the state’s agency or the official.”

When reached by phone, a receptionist for Sheriff Allison told Yahoo! Shine he was not "giving any more comments about this."

At the Flood Zone, meanwhile, Lisa has stopped charging for non-customers to use the bathroom. “I didn't think it would really go this far,” she said, adding that, since the report broke, she'd been inundated with "smart Alec" calls at the restaurant. "I was just trying to prove a point."

Perhaps next time Barnes is in a jam, she’ll hit the nearby Pit Stop Pizza instead.

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