PORT RICHEY — Her boyfriend called her at work.
"You're not going to believe this," said Michael Juergens, 22. "You've got to look at the paper."
When Jennifer Lumpkin saw what he was talking about, she had chills.
"My heart stopped," said Lumpkin, 20.
The newspaper story was about a man named John E. Sexton Jr., a 47-year-old self-employed lawn maintenance worker accused of butchering 94-year-old Ann Parlato inside her Port Richey home.
The mug shot of Sexton — balding, sharp nose and chin — was the same face Lumpkin and Juergens had been cursing and muttering about for days.
At 6 p.m. on Sept. 16 — one week before Parlato's body was discovered — Sexton rear-ended Lumpkin at a red light on U.S. 19 at Jasmine Boulevard in Port Richey, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. His aqua blue truck screeched right before impact, but it was too late. Lumpkin's neck hurt, but she was okay.
She saw the blue truck back up and then take off with its hood up, through the red light, and then stop. Sexton got out, put down the hood and kept going, she said.
Juergens works throughout the area repairing air conditioners and had just happened to finish the day near Lumpkin's office in Hernando County. Juergens had been following Lumpkin home but got caught at a light and arrived at the crash scene a few seconds after the accident.
Lumpkin was hysterical. Juergens got out of his car to make sure his girlfriend was okay and then took off after the blue truck. He caught up with it at a Circle K gas station on Fox Hollow Drive. The truck was empty. Juergens wrote down the license plate number.
Sexton came out of the store with a beer in his hand, Lumpkin said. Juergens told the man he needed to go back to the accident scene. The man said he didn't know what Juergens was talking about. Then, according to Lumpkin, the man cursed at Juergens, got into his truck and sped off.
Lumpkin's car didn't have much damage. She said a trooper with the Florida Highway Patrol called her that night and said the FHP had found the truck at Sexton's home at 7811 Niagara Drive in Port Richey, but Sexton was gone.
Sexton's wife said her husband had had the truck that day, and Sexton's mother-in-law confirmed that the front end damage was new, a report says.
The trooper told Lumpkin that Sexton would be issued a citation for leaving the scene of an accident, a misdemeanor because there were no serious injuries.
Days went by. Lumpkin's neck felt better. Her car's bumper was fixed. She said her boyfriend wished he had pinned down that driver at the gas station and forced him to wait for authorities to arrive. If Juergens hadn't happened to have been following her home that day, Lumpkin kept thinking, she might have chased down that guy herself.
"Jerk," Lumpkin thought.
Now, after discovering what Sexton is accused of doing, Lumpkin is thankful that she and her boyfriend let him go without a fight.
"Who knows what could have happened?" she said.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.