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A deadly year for Hernando County

BROOKSVILLE — Ten days into the new year, prominent Spring Hill physician Robert Blackburn brought a brutal end to a stormy marriage, authorities said.

On the morning of Jan. 10, before 40-year-old Sarah Blackburn could go through with a divorce from the man she called controlling, Blackburn savagely beat his wife of more than 16 years and shot her in the mouth with a vintage pistol, according to a Hernando Sheriff's Office investigation released later.

Blackburn, 55, then turned the gun on himself, leaving two children behind.

The case that shocked a community would be just the first in a year marked by lethal violence in Hernando County. Only 1993 had more homicides, when the county finished with 13 — six of them in the first half of the year.

A common thread running through most of this year's murders: one family member dying at the hands of another.

Whether it was for apparent mercy, revenge or defense, the alleged killers in five of these cases turned out to be kin to the victims.

•••

Four days after the Blackburn murder-suicide, 55-year-old roofer John Kalisz walked into the front door of his sister Kathryn Donovan's home in a quiet neighborhood west of Brooksville armed with a 9mm handgun and started shooting, authorities say.

He fired about 15 rounds, killing Donovan, 61, and her 59-year-old office manager, Deborah Tillotson.

Donovan's daughter, Manessa, 18, and another employee in the home-based color analysis business, Amy Wilson, 33, suffered multiple gunshot wounds and survived. Manessa Donovan was two months pregnant and lost the child.

Kalisz fled north on U.S. 19 and got into a shootout with authorities at a gas station near Cross City. Kalisz, who suffered gunshot wounds, is accused of fatally shooting Dixie Sheriff's Office Capt. Chad Reed.

Kalisz was indicted on one count of first-degree murder in Dixie County and two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder in Hernando.

His trial in Dixie is slated to begin March 8 in Cross City. Skip Jarvis, state attorney in the Third Judicial Circuit, said prosecutors there hope that Kalisz will be tried in Hernando County first. Conviction on the two murders here would bolster efforts to persuade a Dixie jury to give Kalisz the death penalty, Jarvis said.

Prosecutors in Brooksville are ready for trial, Assistant State Attorney Pete Magrino said last week. But defense attorneys probably won't be ready that soon, said Devon Sharkey, a public defender who is assisting on the case.

"I do not think it's likely," Sharkey said.

•••

On the morning of the day authorities say George Larsson shot and killed his wife Dorothy, a neighbor tried to be helpful.

John Erickson went to get his mail about 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 23 and saw George Larsson outside. Dorothy had a stroke a few weeks before and was recovering in HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital in Spring Hill.

Erickson asked about Dorothy and Larsson stiffened, Erickson told a Times reporter later.

"I don't want to talk about it anymore," Erickson recalled Larsson saying.

Two hours later, Larsson went back to visit his wife of more than half a century. He went into her room at HealthSouth, aimed a gun, fired once and killed her, authorities said. Then he walked outside the front doors and shot himself, his body slumped against a wall a few feet from the entrance.

They were both 85. They had two sons and several grandchildren, friends said.

The case has been ruled a murder-suicide and is now closed, Sgt. Donna Black, spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office, said last week. An autopsy concluded both died of gunshot wounds. Dorothy Larsson had prescribed drugs in her system; George Larsson had no drugs in his.

He did not leave a suicide note that might have explained his actions.

"So we will never know exactly why," Black said.

•••

One hundred days later, authorities say, a father died at the shotgun-wielding hands of his son.

Deputies were called on May 3 to a grisly scene in a remote, eastern section of the county. There they found Ivan Horne's body near the back of a vacant home, clad only in a pair of boxer shorts, white socks and a black long-sleeve shirt.

Horne's 19-year-old son, Stephen, later told detectives that he had called his father about 10:30 p.m. and arranged to meet him in Tampa. Horne and Angel Gonzalez picked up Ivan Horne, then drove him to a vacant house on Otter Drive in Ridge Manor, on a lime rock road not far from Stephen Horne's home on Broken Stone Street.

There, as the three men walked toward the back of the house, Horne pulled out a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun and pumped a round into his father's back, authorities said. As his father lay dying, Horne shot him three more times in the torso,

After stripping off his father's shorts, Horne told detectives, he and Gonzalez drove to Stephen Horne's home and took 22 oxycodone pills and about $640 from the dead man's pants pockets. Horne then buried his father's clothing and the shotgun in his back yard, according to reports.

Horne and Gonzalez face first-degree murder charges, among others. Both have pretrial court appearances set for Jan. 28.

The case does not meet the requirements for the death penalty, Magrino said.

•••

Less than two weeks later, deputies found the body of 80-year-old community leader and former teacher Sarah Davis in her blood-splattered home in south Brooksville.

Authorities say Byron Keith Burch, a career criminal known in the neighborhood as "One-Eyed Jack'' because of damage to his left eye, killed Davis to steal her jewelry and sell it. Davis had tried to help Burch by allowing him to perform odd jobs around her house on St. Francis Street, authorities said.

Burch, 39, was arrested on May 25 and pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder. He is set to return to court Feb. 4 for a pretrial hearing. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Three months after her death, the City Council voted to honor Davis with its annual Great Brooksvillian award.

•••

The following month, a brother killed his brother in Spring Hill.

On the evening of June 10, an argument between Christopher Gorski, 24, and his mother, Pamela Gorski, 49, broke out at their home on Corrigan Drive. Christopher Gorski allegedly slapped his mother during the dispute.

After telling his brother to stop, 22-year-old David Gorski pulled a .22-caliber handgun from his waistband. When Christopher was about 5 feet away, David fired four shots into his brother's chest, authorities said.

Christopher Gorski was flown to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, where he died hours later.

Prosecutors charged David Gorski with manslaughter by use of firearm because the shooting lacked premeditation or "evil intent" required for a murder charge. If convicted on that charge, he could have faced a minimum sentence of 12 years in prison.

But Assistant State Attorney Don Barbee agreed to reduce the charge to manslaughter, which meant Gorski will not have to spend time in prison. He received two years of house arrest and five years of probation as part of a plea agreement.

•••

Ten days after the Gorski shooting came the fatal stabbing and carjacking of 18-year-old Enrique Daniel Acevedo.

Acevedo and his girlfriend, Skyler Nicholle Collins, had driven to Emerson Road, south of Brooksville, to pick up Collins' ex-boyfriend, 19-year-old Steven Wesolek, who had called asking for a ride for him and two of his friends. Shortly after Acevedo and Collins picked up the trio in her red Ford Mustang, Wesolek stabbed Acevedo twice in the back of the neck while 38-year-old Sherrie Dicus choked Collins until she lost consciousness, authorities said.

The suspects sped off in the Mustang and were later arrested. Collins and Acevedo ran about 50 feet to the intersection of Ayers and Culbreath roads when Acevedo collapsed. He died in the road, authorities said.

Also picked up that day was 14-year-old Sabrina Dicus, Sherrie Dicus' daughter. All three suspects were homeless. All three entered not guilty pleas on charges of first-degree murder, attempted felony murder, armed carjacking and armed robbery during. All are being held without bail and are set to be in court for a pretrial hearing on Jan. 27.

Sabrina Dicus will be tried as an adult, and prosecutors will push for the death penalty for Wesolek, Magrino said last week.

After the death, nearly 100 family members and friends packed a small chapel at Brewer and Sons Funeral Home in Spring Hill to remember Acevedo. The only son of four children born to Aristides and Carmen Acevedo of Spring Hill, "Ricky" was remembered as an easygoing and generous teen who loved to tinker with cars and care for stray dogs and cats.

•••

The day after the Acevedo murder, Hernando Sheriff Rich Nugent was updating the case at a news conference when he learned of yet another homicide.

Fratricide, in fact, investigators say.

Stanley Elias Eckard, 21, admitted to strangling his 19-year-old brother Sean and burying him in the back yard of the family's Spring Hill home, authorities said.

The brothers had typical arguments, friends and family told authorities, but the tension had increased in the weeks leading up to the murder after Sean Eckard started dating a woman that Stanley had feelings for, according to court discovery documents. Stanley told investigators after his arrest that he was angry because he thought Sean was flaunting the relationship.

Detectives initially recommended a charge of second-degree murder, but prosecutors said further investigation of the case supported a more serious charge. A charge of first-degree murder generally indicates the crime was premeditated. Magrino said the case does not meet the requirements for the death penalty, however.

Eckard is slated for a pretrial appearance on Wednesday.

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@sptimes.com.

A deadly year for Hernando County 12/25/10 [Last modified: Saturday, December 25, 2010 12:53pm]
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