Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Public safety

Three captured in stabbing death of Riverview clerk

BRANDON — When Jimmy Walker saw the man in the royal blue hoodie come jogging out the door of the 7-Eleven early Wednesday, he thought something was wrong.

Walker, 58, stopped at the store at 11015 Bloomingdale Ave., as he usually does several nights a week, to gas up his motorcycle before heading home. After he saw the man run, he walked inside. His heart sank when he saw no one behind the counter.

Walker turned and saw Kenneth Lee Redding lying in an aisle in a pool of blood.

Walker yelled for another customer to call 911. He grabbed a handful of napkins to stop the bleeding and tried talking to the gravely wounded Redding.

"He was trying to say something, but I couldn't understand," Walker said.

Redding, 54, died at Tampa General Hospital. He had been stabbed more than a dozen times.

Investigators launched an all-day search for the killer — following a trail of stolen lottery tickets south along the Interstate 75 corridor, finally capturing the suspect and two others.

Lawrence Robert Bongiovanni III, 20, of Tampa was captured while walking in Charlotte County, deputies said. He was arrested on a charge of first-degree murder.

Two others, Russell Travis Beasley, 25, of Riverview and Brandan Garrett Green, 23, of Brandon were captured in a Toyota Solara on I-75 in Sarasota County, the Sheriff's Office said.

They were being questioned by detectives, the Sheriff's Office said, and no charges against them had been announced.

Investigators believe Bongiovanni went into the store, hid in the bathroom for seven or eight minutes, walked out and crouched in an aisle. He then jumped at Redding as the clerk walked between the aisles.

After the attack, Bongiovanni stole a pack of up to 500 scratch-off lottery tickets, Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee said. Deputies don't believe that was the motive for the slaying, but rather an afterthought.

Still, the tickets led to a break.

Deputies contacted the Florida Lottery with the serial numbers of the missing tickets. And like watching debit card transactions, lottery officials saw the cards pop up across the state as Bongiovanni and two others cashed winning scratchoffs at convenience stores in the Tampa Bay area and south along I-75.

Investigators say Beasley and Green did not go into the Riverview store, but surveillance cameras at other convenience stores later recorded the trio together.

Inside the Riverview 7-Eleven, surveillance cameras captured images of a man in a royal blue sweat shirt. The video shows him attacking Redding, deputies said. He ran, leaving a trail of blood through a parking lot.

Deputies believe that man is Bongiovanni, who at 20 already has a long arrest record. He has been booked 12 times on burglary, trespassing, grand theft, battery and probation violation charges, according to state records. In 2011, he was sentenced to five years of community supervision for an aggravated battery arrest.

Walker, a regular customer at the store, said he had come to know Redding. They would exchange greetings whenever Walker stopped in for gas in the early morning.

"Nicest guy in the world," Walker said. "Been shooting the breeze with him for a while. I just want to say a prayer for his family."

Deputies blocked off a wide area around the store with crime scene tape before the sun came up Wednesday.

Several regular customers stopped by to pay their respects in the afternoon. Another customer, Andrew Sokolowski, 18, said nothing seemed to get Redding down — not customers, not bad weather. "He'd always say, 'Drive safe. Be safe,' " Sokolowski remembered. "He was like a grandfather."

Redding had worked as a clerk at the 7-Eleven for about a year and a half, a company spokeswoman said. He was working alone when he was killed.

"Typically, stores are staffed to meet the needs of customers and customer traffic," said 7-Eleven spokeswoman Margaret Chabris. "This particular store would be single-staffed some days and double-staffed other days during the week."

Chris McGoey, a Los Angeles-based security consultant who helped develop a robbery-prevention plan for 7-Eleven stores in the 1970s, said most convenience stores are designed to operate with just one person on duty. Staffing numbers can be influenced by a number of factors.

"It's kind of sales driven," he said. "The other factor is safety."

Studies differ about whether having more than one clerk on duty serves as a deterrent to convenience store crime. But in McGoey's experience, most cases involve a single suspect and a single clerk.

Whatever the motive was in Redding's case, those who knew him say he wasn't one to invite trouble. He lived in a mobile home near the bank of Bullfrog Creek in Gibsonton. His mother, Jeannette Cochran, lived next door.

"The only comment I want to make," she said, "is that he was a good man."

Times news researcher John Martin and staff writer Charles Scudder contributed to this report.

     
   
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