HOLIDAY — When Paula Lewis and her three children moved into the lemon-colored house on the corner last year, she told her neighbors about her past.
She knew they would find out anyway, and she wanted to tell them first, face to face.
"I'm a registered sexual predator," next-door neighbors Sandy and Jeff Fitzgerald recalled Lewis saying.
It had something to do with a bad decision involving a teenage boy years ago, Lewis told Sandy Fitzgerald. But, Lewis added, she'd paid for her mistake and was living on the right side of the law.
"I appreciated her honesty," Jeff Fitzgerald said.
For several months, the home on Hess Drive, the one with a large dreamcatcher on the front door to snare bad dreams and let only the good ones inside, seemed very quiet.
All of that changed on Friday afternoon.
The Fitzgeralds saw Lewis walk down the street to her house. Seconds later, they saw her teenage son running full speed from the home, holding his pants so they didn't fall. The boy kept running until he was out of sight.
Then the cops showed up.
Lewis looped a dog leash around her 6-year-old daughter's neck and pulled her backward, according to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.
The girl, a sheriff's deputy wrote, had "ligature marks around her neck." Lewis told authorities that her daughter somehow got the mark on her neck while trying to walk the dog and that she was trying to run away from home.
Lewis was arrested on a child abuse charge.
Lewis, the Fitzgeralds said, lives with a teenage son, another son who is about 8 years old and her daughter. They often saw Lewis, who is listed in jail records as disabled and unemployed, waiting outside for her kids to get off the school bus.
Lewis, 39, was held without bail Saturday in the Pasco County Jail in Land O'Lakes. She also is charged with failing to register as a sexual predator and violating probation. Lewis was arrested in 2001 by Tampa police on three counts of sexual battery on a child, according to state records. She was sentenced to four years of probation and never served prison time, according to state Department of Corrections records.
No one was home at Lewis' house Saturday afternoon.
A child's green sand bucket was in the yard. Two blue training wheels sat on a windowsill.
"It's sad," Jeff Fitzgerald said of the accusation against his neighbor.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at (727) 869-6229 or firstname.lastname@example.org.