Sunday, April 22, 2018
Education

Investigation continues in death of former Freedom High principal's wife

TAMPA — Nearly three months after the death of Lutz massage therapist Donna Sheppard, a sheriff's investigation continues as does a separate stalking case against a Hillsborough County school district clerk.

The clerk, Tracey Seenath, 40, was arrested in September on charges she stalked David Sheppard, who was the principal of Freedom High School and Donna Sheppard's husband. Donna Sheppard was listed as a victim on the Hillsborough County sheriff's report, but not in the court case.

Seenath is now on unpaid suspension from her job as a school district property control clerk pending the outcome of the stalking case. She and David Sheppard had a relationship while they worked together at Wharton High School, where he was an assistant principal at the time.

Sheppard ended the relationship in late 2011, according to Seenath's arrest report. He stepped down as Freedom's principal Oct. 24, after the relationship was revealed and five days before his wife's death. He now teaches science at Gaither High.

The Hillsborough Medical Examiner ruled Dec. 11 that Donna Sheppard's death was a suicide by drowning, saying she submerged herself in her backyard swimming pool wearing a weighted belt.

Early this week, sheriff's officials said their case was inactive and they would soon make the investigative file public. Late Wednesday, with a hearing on the stalking case called for Thursday morning, the clerk's office was told the file was off limits and the case was still open.

"We have information in the stalking case that may or may not be pertinent in the death investigation," said sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon. "And we will hold on until that's ruled out."

Seenath's attorney, John Demmi, said he thought the death investigation would have been wrapped up by now.

"Everybody knows it's a suicide," Demmi said after the court hearing in the stalking case. "The report came back from the coroner's office, saying it was a suicide. We all know it. But my understanding is that the family doesn't think it is."

Donna Sheppard's brother, Mike West, said, "I will never believe it's a suicide. ... There are too many unanswered questions. Nothing makes sense."

Because of the death investigation, lawyers did not reach a resolution to the stalking case Thursday. Instead, Judge Tom Barber set another hearing for March 4.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]

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