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Deaths of officers weigh on Tampa Mayor Iorio

Mayor Pam Iorio and police Chief Jane Castor, right, announce the death of police Officer David Curtis, 31, at Tampa General Hospital on Tuesday morning. Curtis and fellow Officer Jeffrey Kocab, 31, were shot and killed during a traffic stop.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

Mayor Pam Iorio and police Chief Jane Castor, right, announce the death of police Officer David Curtis, 31, at Tampa General Hospital on Tuesday morning. Curtis and fellow Officer Jeffrey Kocab, 31, were shot and killed during a traffic stop.

TAMPA — The phone rang at 3 a.m.

Mayor Pam Iorio's first thought was of her children, one of whom is away at college. Then she saw the caller was Tampa police Chief Jane Castor.

Her mind went to the night less than a year ago, when a phone call brought news that police Cpl. Mike Roberts had been shot and killed.

Iorio picked up the phone.

"Mayor, I've got real bad news," Castor said. "We've got two officers shot, and one is dead."

Iorio threw on a pair of khaki pants and a black dress shirt and drove to Tampa General Hospital. By the time she got there, the second officer was on life support. He was pronounced dead a few hours later.

The slaying of officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis, 31, marked the second and third Tampa police officers to die in less than a year.

Reflected in Iorio's grief Tuesday was the weight of what had come before.

"Our hearts are just breaking," a somber Iorio said during a news conference outside the hospital at dawn. As she headed back into the hospital, back to the grieving officers, wives, mothers and cousins, Iorio broke down in tears.

"It's just been horrific," she said. "It's been awful to see these families in such grief, to see all the officers in such grief."

In total, six police officers have died during Iorio's seven years in office — the others were her own bodyguard and driver, Detective Juan Serrano, killed by a drunken driver in 2006; Toby O'Brien, who died in 2006 of Lou Gehrig's disease; and Victor Guerrero, who died in an off-duty motorcycle accident in 2008.

A driver took Iorio from the hospital to the command center near the crime scene where she monitored the investigation.

Throughout the day, she accepted hugs from law enforcement officers and acquaintances. She took calls of condolence from Gov. Charlie Crist and St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster.

At Adesa Auto Auction, whose parking lot had been transformed into the command center, she paused and smiled for photographs at the request of office workers.

"I appreciate what your company is doing to accommodate the police and the media during this difficult time," she told them.

But burned into her brain was the image of the two slain officers, brought down by bullets to the head, she had seen that morning in the hospital.

"You really have to rely on your faith at that moment when you look at the face of someone who has just died a violent death," said Iorio, 51, who visited the bedsides of all the officers who died in the line of duty under her watch. It's something no one should ever have to see, but something as mayor she feels compelled to do, she said.

"You have to be there for the families, and you have to be there for the officers," she said. "We all get through tragedy together, and that's how you should be as a city, as a community. It's a collective process."

That process, she said, will continue until well after Curtis and Kocab are laid to rest.

By the end of the day, Iorio had pinned onto her shirt blue and black ribbons that she wears during the Police Officers Memorial Day celebrated nationwide every May.

After one final interview, she planned to head home, and wait for another call from Chief Castor, the one she hoped would tell her that Dontae Morris, the man wanted in the officers' murders, had been caught.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Deaths of officers weigh on Tampa Mayor Iorio 06/29/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 29, 2010 10:29pm]
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