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Man is fought off by 81-year-old woman, runs off and drowns in Mirror Lake

ST. PETERSBURG — The man wanted a dollar.

When the 81-year-old woman — on her way to a downtown bank — said no, he put her in a headlock and tried to take her down.

But she fought back.

"He was beating me. I was kicking. I was screaming," said Joyce Trace. "I'm not a sissy."

The man fled. Moments later, he was at the edge of Mirror Lake.

"You guys didn't see me,'' he told a group of people hanging out nearby, and jumped.

The water, about 7 feet deep with an additional 4-foot layer of silt and sand below it, quickly swallowed him. He vanished under the surface.

About 90 minutes later, a diver from St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue's marine unit pulled his body from the lake.

"He went into the water and never came back up," said fire rescue Capt. Bernard Williams.

Police did not release the man's identity Friday night because they had not yet found or notified his family.

Witnesses said he was homeless, and often hung out at the downtown park, which sits behind a library.

"He didn't want the police to chase him," said Amber Jachimski, who was part of the group the man talked to before he jumped in the lake.

Jachimski and other witnesses said the man appeared intoxicated Friday and stumbled down the side of an embankment before he jumped.

"He was drunk," said William "Pop" Shumate, who said he was friends with the man. "He'd been drinking a six pack of beer earlier in the day."

Shumate said he came upon the scene right after the man jumped. By habit, he said, he glanced in the water to see if he could spot any fish.

Instead, he said, he saw his friend's head surface briefly.

"I saw bubbles, then he went back down," Shumate said.

Authorities, already called out to the scene for the report of the assault, were at the lake in minutes and began searching for the man.

Divers suited up while dozens of onlookers and curious library patrons watched.

An initial search came up empty.

Trace, meanwhile, sat on a bench at the nearby St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club.

She cradled her elbow and held an ice pack to her left temple. She worried that the attack would make her appear weak, when she is a feisty woman who still loves to dance.

About 4:30 p.m., the man's body was found.

Officers approached Trace and told her the news. She responded by placing her head in her hands. Officers took her home.

Later Friday night, Trace told a reporter by phone: "He could have killed me."

She said the left side of her face had started to swell and she couldn't move her arm.

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8643.

Man is fought off by 81-year-old woman, runs off and drowns in Mirror Lake 04/10/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 11, 2009 2:54pm]

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