Sunday, February 18, 2018
Public safety

Commissioner tried to help stepsister who died in Seminole Heights fire

TAMPA — Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham stood Sunday in front of a run-down, burned-out Seminole Heights house.

Remorse bore down on him not as a politician, but as a brother.

"We all feel terribly, terribly guilty," Higginbotham said, "thinking, what more could we have done for Laura?"

Laura Grumney, his stepsister, died in that house Saturday afternoon as flames from a fire consumed it. She had dashed back into the blazing home several times until firefighters say Grumney, 56, was overwhelmed by smoke and fire.

The cause of the fire had not been determined, but investigators said it was accidental.

They found her body in the back doorway of the bungalow at 5609 N Seminole Ave., where she lived alone.

"No one understands why she went back into a burning house," Higginbotham said.

He knows that poor judgment stems from her years-long battle with mental illness. Her family — including Higginbotham and his wife, Devon — pitched in to keep her on track. But her death left them questioning whether they had done enough.

Grumney had been a dreamer, Higginbotham said, a loving mother who years ago started a gourmet dog biscuit company with her son, Barclay.

Then a car crash "shattered her life," he said.

Her injuries turned Grumney into a sometimes-homeless woman with pain management and drug problems, Higginbotham said.

Grumney went to rehab last year and came back refreshed. But she didn't always take the medication that could have helped her manage, Higginbotham said, and her behavior soon reminded her family that she needed continued support.

"Some people just can't get life organized," he said.

Family members paid Grumney's utility bills, and she received assistance from Meals on Wheels and the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.

It wasn't enough. She seemed stuck in a cycle of being okay, then letting things fall apart.

Last Tuesday, Higginbotham stopped by the house to check on Grumney.

"She didn't come to the door," he said. "I'm certain she was home."

He left feeling frustrated.

A next-door neighbor recalled Grumney as a troubled woman: "She would never help herself," said Ann Hendry, 78.

When the fire started Saturday, Hendry called 911 and looked over the fence that separated her house from Grumney's.

"I yelled and yelled at her to get out of the house," Hendry said. "But she didn't."

On Sunday, pieces of the tall wooden fence lay busted on the ground, revealing the charred house behind it. The sharp smell of smoke still stung the air, with the shrill of a smoke alarm still sounding overhead.

Higginbotham speculated Grumney tried to put out the fire herself. On the back steps, a green garden hose trailed over soot, partly shriveled near the blackened doorway. Slung over the fence, the hose ran from a house across the street even before the fire, because Grumney's water had been turned off.

Her house had two other entrances, but Grumney chose to go in where the fire was worst.

Maybe, Higginbotham hoped, some good can come from his family's tragedy.

"No family is immune to issues of mental illness," he said, "and they shouldn't be embarrassed or ashamed of it."

Stephanie Wang can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443.

Comments

Pinellas Park man tries to stop people breaking into his car, is shot in arm

PINELLAS PARK — A man saw people trying to break into his vehicle and chased them away, before one of the attempted burglars shot him in the arm, police said.Alexander Weaver, 28, was at his home on the 6200 block of 106th Avenue N early Sunday morni...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Deputies: Woman charged with DUI manslaughter hit St. Pete Beach pedestrian

ST. PETE BEACH — Deputies say a driver killed a man walking on a sidewalk and fled the scene before causing a second crash Saturday night.Carolyn Yovan, 51 of St. Pete Beach, now faces felony charges of driving under the influence manslaughter and le...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Pinellas Sheriff’s Office accuses 14-year-old of copycat Snapchat school threat

Pinellas Sheriff’s Office accuses 14-year-old of copycat Snapchat school threat

PINELLAS PARK — The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office late Saturday said detectives arrested a 14-year-old boy and accused him of posting a threat to a school on his Snapchat account.Edward Charles Osgood, who attends Lealman Innovation Academy, was a...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Man found dead in flaming mobile home

TAMPA — Firefighters found a man dead inside a burned-down mobile home Saturday.Tampa Fire Rescue got a call just after 4:30 p.m. that a single-wide mobile home at the 100 block of East Linebaugh Avenue was in flames.The man’s identity was not releas...
Published: 02/17/18
‘I’m going to watch you bleed’: Nikolas Cruz threatened ex’s new boyfriend, report says

‘I’m going to watch you bleed’: Nikolas Cruz threatened ex’s new boyfriend, report says

Warning: This story quotes graphic material.Before he killed 17 people at a South Florida high school, Nikolas Cruz repeatedly threatened an ex-classmate who had started dating his former girlfriend, according to a report in Buzzfeed News."I’m going ...
Published: 02/17/18

Police find dead man in Tampa apartment

TAMPA — Police found a dead man inside an apartment in the 5200 block of Sonora Court Friday after 3 p.m.Who the man is or how long he’s been dead is not yet clear, police said. The victim appears to have been killed in some sort of "homicidal violen...
Published: 02/17/18
Prosecutor: Death penalty was ‘designed’ for cases like Florida school shooting

Prosecutor: Death penalty was ‘designed’ for cases like Florida school shooting

The 17 counts of premeditated murder against Nikolas Cruz are the type of case "the death penalty was designed for," according to the Florida prosecutor in charge of trying the confessed school shooter.But Michael Satz, the longtime Broward state att...
Published: 02/17/18
Florida, angry and grieving, takes gun protest to streets

Florida, angry and grieving, takes gun protest to streets

PARKLAND, Fla. — Thousands of angry students, parents and residents demanded stricter gun control laws Saturday as new details were revealed about the suspect accused of shooting and killed 17 people in a Florida high school. The rally, held in downt...
Published: 02/17/18

Woman hit, killed Friday along Memorial Highway

TOWN ’N COUNTRY — A woman died after she was hit by a minivan along Memorial Highway on Friday night, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.The 53-year-old woman, whose identity was not released, was trying to cross Memorial Highway f...
Published: 02/17/18
White nationalist appears to disavow connection with shooter

White nationalist appears to disavow connection with shooter

PARKLAND, Fla. — A white nationalist appears to have lied to The Associated Press and other news organizations when he claimed that Florida school-shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz was a member of his obscure group.Law enforcement officials have said the...
Published: 02/17/18