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Delayed text messages left sexual predator free to roam for hours in Tampa case

TAMPA — Things might have turned out differently if two text messages had reached their target on time early Friday morning.

But an unexplained four-hour delay gave registered sex predator Tommy Lee Sailor enough time to go to a bar, meet a woman, party with her, bring her home and try to rape her, officials say.

Around 12:15 a.m. Friday, the company hired by the state to track violent offenders got notice that something was not as it should be with Sailor.

Either the 37-year-old's GPS monitoring device had been removed from his ankle, or he had traveled too far from home. Or maybe there was an easily explained technical failure — most alerts like this are.

The call center at Odessa-based Pro Tech Monitoring sent text messages to Sailor's on-call probation officer, Pam Crompton. When contacted by a reporter, Crompton referred all questions about what happened to the Florida Department of Corrections.

One text message, called an "alarm," went out to Crompton at 12:44 a.m., Corrections Department spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said.

Another flew at 1:57 a.m.

Crompton heard nothing, Plessinger said.

Hours passed.

The call center tried to reach Sailor through his monitoring device, but the offender didn't respond.

Police say that's because Sailor was at Tilley's Place, a bar in Tampa, until last call, about 2:45 a.m.

He left with a woman, headed to two house parties, then, at 4 a.m., brought her to his house, where, police say, he sexually battered her, holding a screwdriver to her throat and telling her he was a "serial rapist."

The victim secretly alerted 911 at 4:27 a.m. and dropped her cell phone on the floor. A 911 dispatcher tracked the phone signal to her location, and police arrived at 4:44 a.m. Only then did Crompton's text messages start filling up her in-box.

One, two, three alerts came all at once at 4:54 a.m. to her Verizon Wireless phone.

Crompton checked them.

Two were about Sailor. The third, also delayed in its delivery, was about another offender, Plessinger said.

Something about the other offender's case indicated it was a higher priority, Plessinger said. She declined to elaborate, calling it "restricted procedure." Crompton was responsible for about 100 offenders that night, Plessinger said.

At 5:25 a.m., Crompton got a third notification about Sailor.

Six minutes later she made her first attempt to reach him. She sent a message to his Pro Tech device, without answer.

Crompton set out to find him.

Police had already been on the scene for more than an hour when Crompton arrived at 5:55 a.m., Plessinger said.

Sailor had escaped through a window when law enforcement arrived. He was arrested at 6 p.m. Saturday on sexual battery and armed false imprisonment charges.

Plessinger said that if Crompton had gotten the original text message at 12:44 a.m., she would have gone to Sailor's house, found that he wasn't home and notified police to be on the lookout for him.

Police might have been waiting when Sailor arrived home.

Still unexplained is why the text messages weren't delivered on time. The Corrections Department is satisfied that Crompton followed procedure and that the Pro Tech system worked as designed.

Right now, Plessinger said, they're asking questions of Verizon Wireless, the cell phone provider.

Verizon spokesman Chuck Hamby said he didn't have any details on this particular case, but the company will look into it if the state requests more information.

Some reasons for text message delays include being outside the coverage area, being in an old building with poor reception, having the phone turned off or having a dead battery, he said. Also potentially problematic, he said, is if the text is sent from a computer through an Internet gateway.

Jared Reitzin, CEO of MobileStorm, a mobile and e-mail marketing firm, said network congestion is also an increasing problem in the text messaging world that can result in delayed message delivery.

Hamby had a different opinion. "It is rare for a text message to be delayed for a network reason," he said.

Pro Tech president Steve Chapin was traveling Tuesday and could not be reached. The company holds a contract with the Corrections Department to provide the monitoring devices, according to public records. It tracks more than 100,000 offenders in Florida and several other states, according to its Web site.

Jennifer Dritt, executive director of the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, said this case shows the limitation of GPS monitoring for sex offenders.

"It's monitoring, it's not prevention," she said. "Mistakes are going to be made, and they can have terrible consequences."

Even when the system is working, she said, there's nothing to prevent a sex offender from attacking again except himself — his fear of going back to jail.

Authorities say Florida serial rapist Jerry Lee Williams Jr., who is serving a life sentence for murder, was wearing an ankle monitor when he attacked at least two of his victims, killing one.

"We have to have very realistic expectations about what these things can deliver," Dritt said, "which is not a rape-free world."

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3383.

Correction: The attack happened on Friday, Jan. 1 and the arrest on Saturday. An earlier version of this story included the wrong date of attack.

Time line on text messages, attack

Friday, Jan. 1, around 12:15 a.m., Pro Tech Monitoring's call center learns something is wrong with Tommy Lee Sailor's GPS tracking device.

12:44 a.m., the call center sends a text message notifying Sailor's on-call probation officer, Pam Crompton.

1:57 a.m, the call center sends another text message to Crompton.

2:45 a.m., Sailor and a woman leave a Tampa bar and go to two parties.

4 a.m., Sailor and the woman go to his house. He begins attacking her.

4:27 a.m., the victim secretly calls 911. A dispatcher hears the attack under way and tracks the location.

4:44 a.m., police arrive. Sailor escapes through a window.

4:54 a.m., Crompton gets both text messages about Sailor at the same time, plus a third about another offender, which was also delayed. She checks on the other offender.

5:25 a.m., the call center sends a third text message about Sailor to Crompton. She gets it immediately.

5:31 a.m., Crompton sends a message to Sailor's tracking system telling him to call.

5:55 a.m., Crompton gets to Sailor's house.

Saturday, 6 p.m., Sailor is arrested.

Sources: Tampa police and the Florida Department of Corrections

Delayed text messages left sexual predator free to roam for hours in Tampa case 01/05/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 10:37am]
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