Wednesday, January 17, 2018
News Roundup

St. Petersburg family grieves loss of Army veteran who dies at 34

ST. PETERSBURG — As a young girl she loved mangoes, and as a young boy he shimmied tree limbs to bring her back the fruit.

After he had regaled her with his foraging capabilities, he told her she was pretty, and that "he wanted to get me before anyone else did," recalled Kristin Thongdeng.

Thongpane Thongdeng, or "Gee," as his family called him, got Kristin pregnant when she was 16.

During those nights as teenage parents it was Gee who cradled their child so Kristin could rest.

That was the side of Gee that made planning his funeral so difficult for Kristin.

Gee's brother was last to see him alive on June 28. Gee remarked that he felt a bit off. He had lost his leg serving in Afghanistan, so bad days were not unusual. Then he didn't call Kristin for two days, which was unusual. Police found him on the floor of his apartment bedroom.

A cause of death has not been established. He was 34.

Kristin had begged him not to join the Army when he was 27. By then they had two more kids. But Gee, who was originally from Thailand, had dreamed of fighting for the country where he grew up.

Other military wives told Kristin about the crippling anxiety that accompanied the long blackouts in communication while their husbands left on missions. But Gee called Kristin every day, even when he was not supposed to, only whispering into the phone. He even called the day in 2010 when an IED flipped his Humvee and cut through his leg.

A doctor at the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital in Tampa recommended he stay close for therapy, so he lived on its campus, away from his family. Gee suffered through rehab with a stiff lip and sarcasm. He never let anyone push his wheelchair. He told his kids to come closer and "touch my stump."

Occasionally, Kristin snuck him out of the hospital and together with their children they would go for drives to nowhere in particular. When they'd pass a mango tree, Gee sent his sons up the trunk to fetch his wife's favorite fruit.

His family's home was not wheelchair accessible, so after he left the hospital he had to live with relatives, and later he moved into the first-floor apartment near Gandy Boulevard.

Homes For Our Troops offered to build his family a house that could accommodate his wheelchair. The organization gave Gee a list of possible lots to choose from. At first, none of them seemed right.

They waited. Gee lived in the apartment alone. He went hunting with other veterans. He lost his temper at sudden loud sounds. He stored three fishing poles in his car for he and his sons. He told his wife he planned to kick the pain medication doctors had prescribed him and that he now was dependent upon.

One day Gee and his family drove to a lot in Largo.

Gee knew immediately he had found the spot for his family's home. On it grew a mango tree. It was scheduled to be finished this fall.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Weston Phippen can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8321. Follow him @westonphippen.

Comments
A closer look at graduation rates. How did your school do?

A closer look at graduation rates. How did your school do?

Updated: 5 minutes ago
9 face hazing charges in death of Florida State fraternity pledge

9 face hazing charges in death of Florida State fraternity pledge

TALLAHASSEE — Nine men are facing hazing charges in connection with the death of a Florida State University fraternity pledge, police said Tuesday. The Tallahassee Police Department said in an emailed release that arrest warrants were signed earlier ...
Updated: 15 minutes ago
Deputies conducting homicide investigation in Tampa

Deputies conducting homicide investigation in Tampa

Hillsborough County deputies are conducting a homicide investigation after a man was found dead in the Grant Park area of Tampa early Wednesday morning.Deputies say the man was found in the 3700 block of Carroway Street.The circumstances surrounding ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Forecast: Brace for another short-lived blast of arctic air across Tampa Bay

Forecast: Brace for another short-lived blast of arctic air across Tampa Bay

Wednesday morning’s slight chill is but a precursor for what’s coming: It’s about to get really cold, Tampa Bay. Later this afternoon and into Thursday morning, temperatures are expected to drop to brutal lows — at least for a day. 10News WTSPFeels-...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Status hearing today for suspect in Seminole Heights killings

Status hearing today for suspect in Seminole Heights killings

TAMPA — A status hearing will be held Wednesday morning for the man accused of four killings in Seminole Heights.Howell Emanuel Donaldson III was arrested Nov. 30, hours after he gave a bag that held a gun to a fellow employee of an Ybor City McDonal...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Meteor credited for bright light, noise rattling Michigan (w/video)

Meteor credited for bright light, noise rattling Michigan (w/video)

DETROIT — Experts say a bright light and what sounded like thunder in the sky above Michigan was a meteor.The American Meteor Society says it received hundreds of reports of a fireball Tuesday night over the state, including many in the Detroit area....
Updated: 1 hour ago
The Daystarter: Freeze watch is in effect; accused Seminole Heights killer in court today; examining Tampa Bay’s grad rates; local crabber’s ‘lucky’ life

The Daystarter: Freeze watch is in effect; accused Seminole Heights killer in court today; examining Tampa Bay’s grad rates; local crabber’s ‘lucky’ life

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.• The cold is back Tampa Bay. Wednesday will see highs in the 60s and then it gets worse from there, dropping down to the 20s and 30s overnight. The region is under a free watc...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Navy files criminal charges in connection with deadly ship collisions, including negligent homicide

Navy files criminal charges in connection with deadly ship collisions, including negligent homicide

Washington PostFive Navy officers involved in ship collisions that killed a combined 17 sailors last year will face a variety of criminal charges, including negligent homicide, the service announced Tuesday night.The individuals include Cmdr. Bryce B...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Cold shelters open in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Hernando

Cold shelters open in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Hernando

Temperatures are set to drop Wednesday and keep dropping, Tampa Bay. It’s time to take tonight’s lows seriously.That’s why cold shelters are opening in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties.PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Goodbye 70s. Hello freeze w...
Updated: 10 hours ago
From Finland, with love: Kyle Curinga’s back stateside with Rowdies

From Finland, with love: Kyle Curinga’s back stateside with Rowdies

When Kyle Curinga decided he wanted to be a professional soccer player, he knew it was going to take a lot of sacrifice. There aren’t many places nearby for a kid from Clearwater to get paid to play the game.So after a stellar career at Clearwater Ce...
Updated: 12 hours ago