Clearwater woman who tried to help son died at his hand, police say

CLEARWATER — For the past four years, Deborah Lohoski, 59, had cared for her young granddaughter and tried to help her troubled son as he struggled with alcohol addiction.

But her efforts ended violently Monday afternoon, when Matthew Lohoski, 33, killed his mother in the family's back yard at 1709 El Trinidad Drive E off State Road 590, east of U.S. 19, authorities said.

Clearwater police did not release a motive Tuesday, but gave this account of Deborah Lohoski's slaying:

While his 7-year-old daughter played a video game inside the home, Lohoski put his mother in a choke hold until she lost consciousness. Moments later, when Lohoski returned to the back yard, she was still breathing.

With a pocket-style box cutter knife, Lohoski slashed his mother's throat and an artery near her armpit, but she still clung to life. Lohoski tried to choke his mother again using a zip tie, but the tie broke, police said.

So in a final attempt to end his mother's life, Lohoski grabbed a sledgehammer from the backyard shed and struck his mother's head at least three times, killing her, police said.

Then Lohoski dropped his daughter off at a friend's house and turned himself in at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. He was taken to Clearwater police headquarters, where detectives interviewed him and arrested him on a first-degree murder charge.

An autopsy was conducted Tuesday, police said.

Lohoski's daughter is in the care of the Florida Department of Children and Families while officials find "a more permanent solution, which eventually may or may not be with a relative," said spokeswoman Natalie Harrell.

Court records show that Deborah moved in with her son and granddaughter in 2010, the year Lohoski and his wife, Tracey Schwinghammer, divorced. The pair had married in February 2006, four months before their daughter was born.

Lohoski was awarded full custody of the girl, who moved with her father both times he settled down with new girlfriends in Pinellas County, according to court records. In December 2012, she stayed with her grandmother at her El Trinidad Drive home. Lohoski would move in later.

Last year, Deborah filed a petition for temporary custody of her granddaughter but dropped it after Tracey, who moved to her native Maryland in June 2010, contested the petition and said she would want custody of her daughter if the girl was not with her father.

Tracey added that Lohoski struggled with drug and alcohol addictions and was diagnosed as clinically depressed, according to court records.

While she took care of her granddaughter, Deborah also worked a few years ago as a paralegal at real estate attorney James Lampathakis' Dunedin office for about a year.

"She was a very nice person. She put up with a lot from her son, you know," Lampathakis said. "He was in rehab at least twice that I can recall, and I think she paid for it or helped pay for it."

But Lohoski's drinking problems continued.

On Sunday, he was issued a DUI citation after being involved in a crash in January, police said. In December, he was arrested on a reckless driving charge when he crashed into a neighbor's mailbox and told responding officers he had been drinking and arguing with his mother, according to an arrest affidavit.

Some neighbors told police they had heard arguing from the Lohoskis' home Monday. Other neighbors who knew the family said Tuesday that the family didn't appear troubled despite Lohoski's drinking problem.

"They were very nice people," neighbor Scott Greer said. "She was a very nice lady. She loved that granddaughter. … I don't know anybody that isn't just shocked."

Lohoski was booked into the Pinellas County Jail, where he remained Tuesday without bail.

Contact Laura C. Morel at lmorel@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4157. On Twitter: @lauracmorel.

Clearwater woman who tried to help son died at his hand, police say 02/25/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 9:06am]

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