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Deputies: Safety Harbor man killed neighbor over yard work money

By Kathryn Varn
David Sommer, 60, of Safety Harbor and a longtime Tampa Tribune courts reporter, was killed in June, according to deputies. Investigators on Friday arrested a man they believe killed him. [Courtesy of Fred Bellet]

SAFETY HARBOR — A four-month death investigation ended Friday when deputies arrested a 40-year-old man on a charge of first-degree murder.

Michael Robert-Jose Harbaugh is accused of killing longtime Tampa Tribune courts reporter David Sommer, 60, during an armed robbery in June, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said. He was arrested Friday morning at the Pinellas County Jail, where he was already in custody on an unrelated charge of violation of probation for felony battery.

According to investigators, Harbaugh told neighbors that Sommer, who lived a few houses down from him on Harbor Cove Street, owed him money for yard work. He went to Sommer’s home and robbed him.

During the robbery, Sommer died of "homicidal violence," the Sheriff’s Office said without elaboration. Sommer’s autopsy was not available Friday

The next morning, a Meals on Wheels food delivery worker found Sommer dead, then called law enforcement.

Surveillance video shows Harbaugh entering and leaving the home and no one else going to or from the house after he left. Harbaugh also gave "inconsistent statements" to investigators, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

State records show Harbaugh pleaded guilty in January 2016 to domestic battery by strangulation. He was arrested three times on probation violations, including on June 20, two days after deputies said he killed Sommer.

After Sommer died, co-workers on a Tampa Tribune alumni page on Facebook recalled his gruff and bluster. One called him her "favorite grump." He liked to boast about his byline count and took it hard when he lost his job about nine years ago. Those close to him had noticed a decline in his health in recent years.

"In the past couple of years, his suffering from Parkinson’s disease grew worse and made daily life difficult," posted his friend and former co-worker, Fred Bellet, who spoke with Sommer regularly until his death.

"All of us who worked with Dave for many years at the Tampa Tribune are shocked and saddened by this horrific news," said Bayard Steele, former Pinellas editor of the Tampa Tribune. "Dave was a solid journalist, a devoted husband and one of the talented characters who made our newsroom an exciting and unpredictable place."

Senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.