NEW PORT RICHEY — On three nights last month, a group of teens drove around downtown in a dark truck, shining a flashlight at homeless men and shooting them with BBs and plastic pellets.
On Sunday afternoon, an 18-year-old man dove into the Gulf of Mexico to rescue a stranded couple.
Authorities say the same person, Patrick N. Pinder of New Port Richey, was involved in both incidents.
How could a person accused of one heartless act be credited with a heroic one?
After his arrest last week for one of the shootings at a homeless man, Pinder told New Port Richey police he had recently been making poor decisions.
After rescuing the couple over the weekend, Pinder told the Times, "It's a really good feeling helping someone in dire need."
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Up until last month, Pinder was a member of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office Explorers, a youth group that pitches in at community events and learns about different aspects of law enforcement, said sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll.
But Pinder got booted from the Explorers after his April 15 arrest on a charge of aggravated battery. New Port Richey police say he and another teen — Jose Castillo-Gomez, 18, of Port Richey — repeatedly shot a 29-year-old homeless man named Jacob Masters with BB guns. Masters, who had been sleeping on a bench on Adams Street, was pelted 50 times, all over his face and body.
Eugene Williams, director of the Pasco County Coalition for the Homeless, said the idea of the teens shooting at homeless people was "appalling."
"I think the kids that are doing this really don't know these (homeless) people's situations," he said. "To inflict pain on them while they are already in pain is atrocious."
But Sergio Mancero, 18, of Port Richey, who was also in the truck that night, told police that where they live, "there's nothing else to do for fun."
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Three days after the first homeless man was shot, a second one told New Port Richey police he had also been attacked.
Phillip Jackson, 51, said he was sleeping on a loading dock on Grand Boulevard about 1:30 a.m. April 9 when he was awakened by gunfire from what he thought was a BB gun.
Jackson was hit in the back of his right leg. When he rolled over, he saw a dark-colored truck leave the scene.
He went to Morton Plant North Bay Hospital to have his leg examined. Five welts had formed.
Jackson told the officer that a similar incident occurred on April 13. He said about 11:50 p.m., someone in the same truck he saw on April 9 shot him with a BB gun. Jackson was facing the truck this time, he said, and put up his left arm to protect himself.
Two welts formed scabs on his left wrist and forearm.
During the investigation into Jackson's shooting, the officer reviewed the report in Masters' case.
The similarities struck him: Both involved a dark-colored truck with a loud exhaust system, and both involved homeless victims being shot multiple times with either BBs or Airsoft pellets — plastic projectiles —that caused injuries.
Officers talked to the teens accused in the first homeless man's shooting, and they said Pinder was involved in the second one, too. Pinder was charged May 6 for the second attack.
The teen made headlines over the weekend when he and his brother hoisted a couple into their father's 24-foot Everglades boat after the couple spent 24 hours bobbing in the Gulf of Mexico.
"That's tremendous for him to have done that," said New Port Richey police Capt. Jeff Harrington.
Pinder's grandfather called the Times with that story. But his family didn't wish to comment Tuesday about the two counts of aggravated battery that Pinder now faces in the homeless shootings.
Williams said he heard about Pinder and his brother helping the couple on Sunday.
He said Pinder is probably a "good kid" who saw a situation where he could be helpful.
As for the shootings of the homeless men, Williams said, "That attack was fun and games that they figured would never come back again."
Camille C. Spencer can be reached at (813) 909-4609 or email@example.com.