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Dr. Robert Blackburn and wife, Sarah, of Spring Hill found dead in apparent murder-suicide

Dr. Robert Blackburn was known for his community involvement.

Times files

Dr. Robert Blackburn was known for his community involvement.

SPRING HILL — A family friend called 911 Sunday afternoon. Someone had been stabbed in a domestic incident, the friend told authorities.

But by the time emergency responders arrived at the house, the man and his wife were dead.

The grisly scene was rare in the gated Lake in the Woods subdivision, off U.S. 19. Even more surprising were the victims: Dr. Robert Blackburn and his wife, Sarah.

The Hernando County Sheriff's Office said Blackburn, a well-known and politically connected osteopathic family physician, and his wife were victims of an apparent murder-suicide.

"A lot of the neighbors that came by (the crime scene) were in pure shock," said sheriff's spokeswoman Donna Black. "Given Dr. Blackburn's name in the community … he was well-known and well-respected. We're still trying to sort everything out."

Black said authorities were called to the Blackburns' home on Laurel Oaks Drive at 1:26 p.m. Sunday.

According to the Sheriff's Office, Blackburn had called a family friend to his house on Sunday. Once the friend arrived, Blackburn showed the friend a stab wound, then asked the friend to leave. After Blackburn went back inside the house, the friend called 911 and waited for deputies to arrive.

When they arrived, deputies discovered Blackburn, 55, and his 40-year-old wife dead in the master bedroom.

Black said the investigation was ongoing but that detectives believed Blackburn killed his wife and then took his own life.

There were no other family members at the house at the time of the incident, Black said, and no other information was being released as the investigation continued. The couple's teenage son and daughter both live at home.

"There's just a lot of sketchy detail at this time," Black said Sunday evening.

The family friend wasn't identified, but Black said the person was not involved in the incident other than making the call to 911. Black said she didn't know if there had been previous reports of domestic incidents or 911 calls made from the Blackburns' home.

News of the deaths quickly made its way around Hernando County, where Blackburn was well-known for his thriving medical practice, tireless community involvement and political connections. He was the personal physician for a number of Hernando officials.

Blackburn was medical director for Hernando County Fire Rescue, Spring Hill Fire Rescue, the Brooksville Fire Department and the Hernando County Jail. He was also chairman of the county's Health Care Advisory Board; founded Access Hernando, which provided free health care to the needy; and last year was appointed president of the Florida Osteopathic Medical Association.

Jean Rags, director of health and human services for the county, said she had worked with Blackburn on medical issues for more than 10 years and was shocked to learn of his death.

"He was very committed to helping people and wanting to do the right thing. He was always very giving of himself," Rags said. "He put a lot into his work — a lot into his community. This is a tragic loss for his family and for our community."

Said Mickey Smith, chief executive officer of Oak Hill Hospital in Spring Hill: "He was involved in everything. Usually if he was involved in it, he was the chairperson."

Blackburn also gained notoriety for an incident that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, the day terrorists attacked the United States.

As a group of doctors watched television reports of the attack at the hospital, Blackburn was one of eight doctors who confronted a Hindu doctor for saying the United States had gotten what it deserved.

Blackburn was also one of several people named in a federal discrimination lawsuit against Oak Hill. An Indian physician accused Blackburn of telling other hospital physicians that she was incompetent. The lawsuit also noted that Oak Hill had suspended Blackburn's hospital privileges for one month after he slandered the doctor based on her national origin.

Blackburn later admitted that he had been suspended.

However, Blackburn's popularity and power never waned in Hernando. If anything, he grew more prominent over the years.

"He's very well-known to the community and well-liked," said Frank DeFrancesco, assistant chief for Hernando County Fire Rescue. "We were all able to accomplish a lot with him."

In the affluent neighborhood where Blackburn and his family lived for more than a decade — in a 5,704-square-foot waterfront home recently valued at nearly $440,000 — a neighbor spoke of a man whom she hardly ever saw or spoke to because he was rarely at home.

"We would see him leave early in morning and come back late at night because he was a busy man," said Victoria Foust. "But we never noticed anything unusual over there. This is a neighborhood with a lot of doctors."

Times staff writer Mike Konrad and correspondent Shary Lyssy Marshall contributed to this report. Joel Anderson can be reached at joelanderson@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6120.

Dr. Robert Blackburn and wife, Sarah, of Spring Hill found dead in apparent murder-suicide 01/10/10 [Last modified: Monday, January 11, 2010 12:24pm]
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