Watermelon vendor shot in attempted robbery identified
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - On the busy corner of Homer and Wayne in Memphis, a familiar face is missing.
Family says 76-year-old John Materna, affectionately known as “Red the Watermelon Man,” would set up and sell the fruit every morning for the past 30 years.
He would use the extra cash for cruises for himself and his wife of 43 years.
But just after 9:30 a.m. Monday, as Materna was selling watermelons out of his truck on the corner of Homer Street and Wayne Avenue, a silver Infiniti pulled up, and everything changed.
“The one that got off the passenger side came up there to me around by the tree, hit my pocket and said ‘Up it,’” said Materna’s friend and a witness who did not want to be identified.
According to Memphis police, two armed men, one wearing a green shirt and another wearing dark clothing, shot Materna while trying to rob him and his friend.
“And that quick, I heard ‘pow-pow,’ and Red had fell,” said Materna’s friend.
Police say Materna did fire a single shot back. Both suspects got back into the car and drove off with nothing in hand.
Materna’s son told Action News 5 that his father has sold watermelons for the past 30 years but never actually did it for the money.
“He loves the people, he says the people around there they’re always watching out for him... they trust him. I mean, it’s just one of those things he just loves to do,” said his son, Daniel Materna.
For now, Materna is recovering in intensive care from a gunshot wound to the stomach.
His family said they plan to carry on his passion, selling watermelons at his favorite spot this weekend.
“We just want to show that we’re there for him and we want to just be his support,” said Daniel.
Materna’s family plans to sell the rest of his watermelons at the corner of Homer and Wayne starting at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.
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