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Carjackers in West Shore area growing 'bolder'

TAMPA — A young family at a gas station.

A woman getting off work at International Plaza.

Another woman, this time about to go to work.

The three were among six people targeted in recent weeks by carjackers in Tampa's West Shore district, home to high-rise complexes, boutiques and business-class hotels.

Tampa police have arrested one suspect but two remain on the loose. Police have informed neighborhood watches and businesses, but when they noticed the attacks happening in daylight, they urged the public to be cautious.

"They're getting bolder," police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said.

So are the victims. In the latest case, a woman pulled a gun on her armed attacker and sent him fleeing from her vehicle.

• • •

April 27. 8:40 p.m.

Jesse Blackstock stopped by the BP at 4139 W Kennedy Blvd. on his way home to Land O'Lakes after dinner.

He prepaid with cash and finished pumping when he heard a man's voice.

"Hey buddy, let me get your keys."

The voice was nonchalant, so Blackstock thought it was a joke.

He shot back, "Screw you, get out of here."

The man said he was running from police.

Blackstock got a look at him. A black man in a striped Ralph Lauren shirt, white knee-length jeans, white ball cap with straight brim and the butt of a gun jutting out of his waist.

Inside Blackstock's Ford Explorer sat his wife, Ansley, 29, and their 6-month-old Benjamin behind her in a car carrier.

Blackstock knew his wife could get out of the SUV but his son was trapped.

"You're not getting my keys," he repeated.

As the carjacker got closer, he peered inside and saw the baby carrier.

He changed his mind and left.

"It was my family and my baby and my wife," said Blackstock, 33, a civil engineer. "It would have been a total different circumstance if it was myself. I would have just handed him the keys."

• • •

April 27. 8:43 p.m.

Nicole Rolf, 54, was closing down her business at a shopping plaza on W Kennedy Boulevard. A passenger left a silver sedan, pointed a handgun at Rolf and took off in her gold Dodge Caravan.

Soon, police learned Rolf's credit cards had been used at a business in St. Petersburg. Surveillance video led them to Akeem Charles Carr, 25, of St. Petersburg. He was arrested on May 5, suspected of carjacking with a firearm.

State arrest records show that he has been arrested more than 15 times on suspicion of battery, trespassing and other crimes.

• • •

April 29, 11:50 p.m.

Lauren Phinesee, 23, stood alone at her car in the Regency Apartments parking lot on Kennedy Boulevard. A man walked up, pointed a gun and demanded her keys. She screamed. He left without the car.

• • •

May 5, 5:30 p.m.

Jessica Pensula, 22, had just jumped into her red 2002 Toyota Echo after work at International Plaza. An armed man forced his way in, shoved her into the passenger seat and drove. He hit her on the head with his gun and forced her out of the moving car. The fall broke her wrist.

The car hasn't been seen since. It has a University of South Florida tag on its front bumper, a small black oval sorority sticker in the rear window and K400TW Florida plates.

• • •

May 11, 11:55 a.m.

Laura Clement, 55, parked at Trask and N Gray streets, across from her apartment. As she got out, a man demanded her keys. She refused. He threatened to kill her, grabbed her purse and left.

• • •

May 11, 12:56 p.m.

On Monday afternoon, Adrianna Sauceda sat in the passenger seat of her car, touching up makeup before heading to her job on Kennedy.

A man's stare met her eyes in the reflection of a side view mirror.

Sauceda, 31, felt alarmed. She fumbled with the ignition, trying to raise the windows.

The man reached for the driver's side door. It was unlocked.

She opened her glove compartment and grabbed a gun.

Looking away from her, he pushed his gun into her stomach and yelled, "Get the f - - - out!"

"I was watching his finger the whole time," she said.

Then he turned toward her. Before he saw it coming, she punched him in the face with her gun, she said, and pointed the barrel between his eyes.

He screamed and fled, nearly falling in the parking lot as he ran to a getaway car.

Sauceda says she has a gun permit because she's been held up five times.

"I used to live in LA, in Compton, and never got robbed, never had a problem," she said. "Then, I moved to Tampa, and the third week I was here, I got robbed."

Sauceda says she didn't hesitate to pull the gun.

"I figured if he was going to shoot me, I was going to shoot him so he wouldn't get away with it," she said. "I didn't want someone to take something I've worked so hard for.

"I think that's a really cowardly, weak person to take something from somebody because they're too weak to work for it and earn it themselves."

• • •

Tampa police think the carjackers want vehicles to use in burglaries and other crimes, McElroy said. She said police think the men are all working together but the suspect they've arrested is not cooperating.

Times staff writer Demorris A. Lee and researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

One suspect is in custody

Gulfport police arrested Akeem Charles Carr, 25, on robbery and carjacking charges in Hillsborough County. Two other men suspected in the car jackings are still on the loose. One is a thin 5-foot-10-inch black male of medium complexion in his mid-20s with short hair and a chipped or missing tooth. He is right handed. The other is of similar size, also thin, with rectangular prescription glasses.

What to do if you're being carjacked

• Turn over your keys and cooperate.

• If someone tries to get you into the vehicle, make as much noise as possible.

• Do not ever get into the car with a suspect.

• Carjackers are looking for people who are alone. Be with someone or stay alert as you go to your car.

Source: Tampa police

Carjackers in West Shore area growing 'bolder' 05/14/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 23, 2009 12:19pm]
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