DADE CITY — Since day one, police say, social worker Stephanie Ross had been uncomfortable visiting Lucious Smith, a man with a criminal history dating to 1977 when he was charged with carrying a concealed ice pick and resisting arrest.
"She just felt as if people should not go alone when they go back," said Dade City police Officer Brian Uppercue. "He's very aggressive."
Her employer, Integra Health Management, says the 25-year-old University of South Florida graduate never complained of feeling unsafe. She had visited him three times without incident.
Just before noon Monday, Ross once again visited the 53-year-old man known as "TooFats" at his apartment complex at 37020 Coleman Ave. to help him manage his Medicaid benefits. Witnesses told police she fled the apartment and ran screaming down the road, with Smith chasing her and slashing at her with a large butcher knife. Ninety minutes later, she died at a hospital of multiple stab wounds to her upper body.
Smith was charged with first-degree murder. He remains at the Land O'Lakes jail without bail. Police have not discerned any motive for the attack.
"It's a horrible tragedy," said Dee Brown, the chief operating officer of Integra, a Maryland-based company that contracts with Medicaid, the government's insurance program for the poor. "My heart and prayers go out to her family, and we're here to help any way we can."
Brown declined to discuss details of Smith's medical history, citing federal privacy laws. However she said he was referred to the company in September. The company has contracts in several states and targets underserved patients, including many with multiple chronic conditions, to make sure they know about available treatments and can get access to care.
Ross, who lived in Lakeland, joined Integra in September shortly after earning a bachelor's degree in psychology from USF. Her family could not be reached for this story.
"She had a heart for reaching out to others and helping them," Brown said. "She was a real value-added member of our team."
Brown said all hires receive 40 hours of training and are shadowed by a supervisor before beginning work on their own. Employees try to reach clients by phone, but when they can't, they visit in person. Brown said employees are told to double team and that Ross may have expected a case worker from another provider to meet her at Smith's apartment.
"We have very limited information, but we are investigating," she said.
Brown said records showed that Smith's last arrest was in 2005, a probation violation on a previous battery case.
"He's been in the community seven years," she said.
But police tell a different story about Smith, who was well known by residents and law enforcement for his public outbursts.
Records show a history of crime, including theft, disorderly conduct, aggravated assault, trespassing and intoxication.
In 1995, he was involved in a brawl in St. Petersburg. An officer said Smith ran out of an apartment waving a knife "in stabbing motion" and threatened to kill somebody, according to a police report. The officer drew his gun and twice ordered Smith to drop the knife before he complied.
One of the witnesses described Smith in the report as "mentally disabled."
Uppercue said Smith had previously been taken into custody under the Baker Act, the state law that allows law enforcement officers to take someone for mental evaluation who appears likely to harm himself or others.
"He's kind of a tinder box," Uppercue said. "He obviously had issues with rage."
Uppercue, a retired police major in the Baltimore area who has been with the Dade City Police Department for about a year and a half, said he once got a call about Smith waving his arms and shouting at people as he walked in the middle of the road. Uppercue said Smith was hostile, but he managed to get Smith to step onto the curb. He said he watched Smith from his patrol car that day to make sure he got home without causing any trouble.
"I understand why a young girl would feel (uncomfortable) in dealing with him," he said. "We try not to deal with him one on one."