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Best friend recalls Fla. slaying: 'I saw him lying in a pool of blood'

(MCT) — Nick Viverito says he and his best friend William "Chris" Pettry were enjoying the Florida evening, laughing and socializing with other Bears fans who had traveled to Jacksonville for Sunday's game.

They briefly chatted with a man and his wife and another woman waiting for seats at the Irish restaurant and bar.  The man and the women went inside and, a little later, Pettry also left to buy a round of drinks. He never came back out.

As Viverito began to wonder about his friend, a waitress came to the table. “She said, ‘Hey, your friend, he’s not breathing in the bar. He’s full of blood,’ ’’ Viverito said in a phone interview.

“I just ran into the bar and there I saw him lying in a pool of blood," he said, his voice shaking.  “What happened inside I don’t know."

Police say the man they briefly met outside, Matthew Hinson, apparently became "enraged" when he saw Pettry talking with his wife. The two were sitting on a bench when witnesses saw Hinson stand up, draw "a little pocket knife" and slice the throat of Pettry.

Hinson, 27, then calmly walked out of Fionn MacCool's as a group of nurses tried in vain to resuscitate the 42-year-old Pettry and stop the bleeding, according to Viverito and police.

Viverito said he has no idea what could have made Hinson stab his friend. “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.

“Why? I mean, what’s the point of doing something like that?’’ he said. "If you’re mad at somebody, just walk away.’’

Viverito and Pettry had known each other for nearly 40 years, since the two were in grade school. “It’s hitting me in waves," he said, choking up. "I'm still trying to get my head around it. He was a great guy."

Police caught up with Hinson as he was pulling out of the restaurant parking lot in his truck minutes after the early Sunday morning attack. "He resisted a little bit, they had to put him to the ground," Schoonover said, explaining cuts and bruises in Hinson's mugshot.

Hinson, from Jacksonville, admitted to the stabbing but did not tell police why. Hinson has been charged with murder and is being held without bail.

A search of Florida arrest and court records turned up only traffic-related offenses. Hinson pleaded no contest to a charge of driving under the influence in the Jacksonville area in June 2006, according to court records from Clay County.

Pettry's mother, Carylin Hedstrom of Chicago, woke up to a phone call early Sunday from her son's wife Karen. The last time she saw her son was Friday before his flight to Florida, when he helped sort through the belongings of his stepfather, who died of lung cancer Sept. 18.

"I haven't cleaned up on my other situation," Hedstrom said. "It hasn't been easy."

Like Veverito, family and friends were still trying to make sense of the death of a man they remembered as gregarious and peaceable. As the owner of a construction and remodeling company, Pettry — known to friends and family as Chris — spent most of his time working or with his wife and three school-age children, relatives said, so the trip was a rare treat.

"How do you get up and go to the washroom … and end up with your throat cut?" asked Pettry's cousin, Quincy Asbury Jr., a River Grove police officer. "To me, that's borderline insanity. It's just a waste. A total waste."

Tribune reporter Vaughn McClure contributed to this story.

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