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Police seek other sex victims

Freedom High teacher Mary Jo Spack, 45, is accused of having sex with a 17-year-old student at a motel.

Freedom High teacher Mary Jo Spack, 45, is accused of having sex with a 17-year-old student at a motel.

TAMPA — A day after a Freedom High School teacher was arrested in the latest sex scandal, Tampa police said they are seeking more possible victims.

Mary Jo Spack was arrested Thursday, accused of having sex with a 17-year-old boy. Police say Spack, a 45-year-old English teacher, met two male students at a liquor store March 14 then took them to a local motel, where she had sex with one of them.

Police have no evidence of other victims. "We're just making a plea that if there are other victims then they should come forward," said Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis.

Spack's arrest was the fourth in the last five months of a Hillsborough teacher for inappropriate sexual contact with a student, and the second female teacher in a week to be jailed.

A Wesley Chapel resident who is married and the mother of a 13-year-old daughter, Spack has taught at Freedom since 2004 after transferring from Chamberlain High School. Her personnel file didn't contain an explanation for the transfer. School district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said the district had no record of any problem.

Instead, her file was filled with letters of commendation and glowing performance reviews. Aside from teaching English and reading, Spack was the sponsor of the boys lacrosse club.

Spack "is an accomplished educator who always goes above and beyond for all students," a 2003 evaluation stated.

Spack came to an education career later in life. During the 1980s, she held a series of service jobs in Texas and Tennessee — bartender, hotel desk clerk, secretary, restaurant manager. She moved to Tampa in the early 1990s and was the director of sales for a local Days Inn.

She switched tracks in 2000, at 37, when she earned a bachelor's degree in secondary English education from the University of South Florida, and began working for Hillsborough schools.

Nothing in her file hinted at Thursday's arrest.

According to Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy, Spack bought a bottle of Crown Royal at a liquor store, then drove a 17-year-old and another 18-year-old Freedom student from the store to a Howard Johnson Express Inn on Fowler Avenue on March 14. The friends text-messaged their buddies that they were headed to a party. At the motel, Spack shared the liquor with the two students as three more students arrived.

Then Spack and the 17-year-old went into the bathroom. According to the arrest affidavit, the four other students heard the two having sex in the shower.

Spack faces two counts of contributing to the delinquency of two minors and one count of unlawful sex with a minor.

One expert said these sorts of crime are not rare, they are just getting more attention.

"Women just weren't prosecuted before," said Leigh Baker, a clinical psychologist and director of the Trauma Treatment Center of Colorado.

The perpetrators are often driven by compulsive behavior and self-delusion, she said.

"A lot of the predators I've interviewed … if you met them, you would say, 'There's no

way,' " Baker said. "They have clean lifestyles, who happen to rationalize their behavior to such an extreme that they temporarily leave reality behind."

Her friends and colleagues said they were in utter shock.

"It hasn't quite sunk in yet," said Christie Gold, Freedom's English department chairwoman who has known Spack since 2002. "She had an outstanding reputation. Smart and dynamic. Very upbeat and positive. I just don't want to believe it."

Gold said she now needs to find a qualified replacement to take over Spack's six classes.

Times researcher John Martin and staff writers Robbyn Mitchell and Rebecca Catalanello contributed to this story.

Police seek other sex victims 03/21/08 [Last modified: Sunday, March 23, 2008 10:21pm]
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