ST. PETERSBURG — His error turned him from an innocuous desk clerk on the graveyard shift into the star of a News of the Weird item.
In the predawn hours of April 2, police say, Ronald Benjamin mistook the body of a 96-year-old woman who had jumped 16 floors to her death for a department store mannequin.
Benjamin, 61, told police he thought someone was playing an April Fools' joke. Later, he enlisted a mother and son who were delivering newspapers to help him heave the body into a Dumpster.
It turned out that Nancy Yates, who lived in Unit 1604, had left a suicide note.
Police believed Benjamin did not know the body was real and declined to press charges. His bosses fired him the day of the incident. Now some residents of the complex that caters to seniors are coming to Benjamin's defense, saying the longtime employee should get his job back.
"It was tragic that Nancy took her life," said Anne Desrosier, who lives down the hall from Yates' unit. "But I can't find in my mind and heart any possible reason why he should be punished because he made an honest mistake."
Desrosier, 83, has circulated a petition addressed to Carteret Management Corp., which runs the 153-unit complex, and its board of directors. About 25 residents have signed it. Another 25 from Desrosier's church signed the petition on Sunday.
Desrosier said Benjamin was a polite employee who worked behind the desk with a Yorkshire Terrier and was always pleasant and polite. She considers his abrupt dismissal the result of "corporate thinking."
Neither Peterborough Apartments' management nor Benjamin could be reached for comment. The day he was fired, Benjamin told the Tampa Bay Times that Yates' face had not looked real and that he had been unable to sleep as a result of the incident.
A memorial service for Yates will be held at 10:30 a.m. April 14 at the Sunshine Center, 330 Fifth St. N.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.