DADE CITY — John Blankenship used to let his children play football on the streets outside his Tommytown home.
That was 35 years ago. Now, Blankenship, 70, doesn't like to leave the house at night. In the past month, his lawn mower was stolen, a pressure washer disappeared from his gated front yard and Tuesday afternoon, a woman was shot in the stomach by deputies on his street.
It happened around 4:45 p.m., just as Blankenship and his wife were sitting down to a dinner of chicken neck bones with rice and corn. Pasco County sheriff's deputies were searching his neighborhood for Mildred Christina Pace, a 33-year-old woman who has been arrested 36 times in the past 14 years. Her convictions are mostly for drugs, cocaine especially, but there are others — forgery, resisting arrest, shoplifting, prostitution, burglary, dealing in stolen property, habitually driving with a revoked license, grand theft. On Tuesday, she was a suspect in two burglaries, including one in which a semiautomatic .38-caliber chrome Derringer was stolen from the home of a Dade City couple while they were at work and church.
This led authorities to believe Pace could be armed. Deputies brought in a vice and narcotics detective with knowledge of the streets to help find Pace, a tall, thin woman known as "Chrissy."
They found her near Seminole and Pinellas avenues. She hid underneath a house, according to the Sheriff's Office, and then tried to run. Deputies repeatedly told her to show her hands.
She refused — and then made a movement toward the deputies, according to sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll.
That's when the vice and narcotics detective shot her in the abdomen, the Sheriff's Office said.
Pace was unarmed. She was flown to a hospital for treatment. Her condition was not available Wednesday.
The detective's name has not been released. Doll said he has been with the agency for four and a half years and is on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation of the shooting by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which is standard procedure for officer-related shootings.
Blankenship could see the crowds circling the crime scene from his kitchen window. He didn't see Pace get shot, but he thinks she shouldn't have been.
"It's as dangerous to be around the Sheriff's Office as it is around the drug dealers," he said.
"You never know which way they're going to go."
People in the area said Pace is masculine, with a military haircut and a wardrobe of men's clothes. They saw her once or twice a week riding her bicycle. Pace got out of prison in April, after spending a year and seven months there for burglary, grand theft, cocaine possession and credit card fraud. Her friend, Melody Hayden, said Pace was trying to get clean.
"It's very sad to hear what happened," said Hayden, 47. "I don't understand why they shot her if she had no weapon."
Hayden heard Pace was in critical condition.
Antonio Hernandez, a 44-year-old who lives in the area of the shooting, said that despite her reputation and past, Pace shouldn't have been shot.
"She was scared," he said. "She was trying to run, that's all."
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Helen Anne Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 435-7312.