Saturday, December 16, 2017
Public safety

TSA officer, ex-Tarpon Springs police officer accused of kidnapping, sexually battering

A former Tarpon Springs police officer kidnapped a woman at gunpoint and raped her while he held her captive for several hours early Friday, authorities said.

Larry Kobielnik, 37 — also an officer with the Transportation Security Administration for 11 years before his firing Saturday — was driving near Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard and Highland Avenue in Clearwater when he spotted a woman walking about 2:30 a.m., according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. He offered the 30-year-old a ride and she got into his car.

A few blocks later, authorities say, the woman asked him to stop but he refused. Kobielnik, of 397 Stirling Terrace in Dunedin, then pulled out a handgun and a police badge, placed the woman in handcuffs and told her she was under arrest, according to deputies.

Kobielnik drove her home to a house in Dunedin where he raped her, deputies say. She was held there for several hours before he fell asleep, allowing her to escape and record his car's license plate number, deputies said.

Kobielnik later denied the accusations to detectives.

He faces charges of kidnapping and sexual battery and was being held without bail Saturday.

Tarpon Springs police Sgt. Ed Miller said Kobielnik hadn't worked there in at least 10 years. Miller could not recall why he left the agency.

TSA initially suspended Kobielnik without pay before announcing his firing Saturday afternoon.

"TSA holds its employees to the highest standards of conduct. This alleged violent crime is egregious and intolerable. TSA is cooperating fully with investigating authorities," TSA administrator John S. Pistole said in a statement.

Kobielnik primarily inspected checked bags and seldom interacted with the traveling public.

His Facebook page indicates that he is a former member of the Marine Corps and a 1995 graduate of Tarpon Springs High School.

People in his former New Port Richey neighborhood, where he had lived for more than a decade, were astounded at the allegations — and in most cases unwilling to believe them.

Kobielnik recently moved to Dunedin because he and his wife, who did not return a call left at her home, are going through a divorce, neighbors said. Still, he frequently came back to visit his sons, one a teenager and the other a few years younger.

People in the area described Kobielnik as a gregarious neighborhood handyman who was willing to help anyone who needed it.

"It blows my head right off my shoulders," Albert Ross, 79, said of the charges. "I would be thrilled to death to have him as a son."

Kobielnik helped Ross, who has had health troubles, vinyl his patio and fix his sprinklers.

Another neighbor, Helen Curry, 81, said he regularly mowed her lawn and fixed light bulbs. He once picked up a washing machine and installed it for her.

Curry never felt uncomfortable with him inside her home. She called him an excellent father and husband.

Investigators, she thinks, must have made a mistake.

"You could talk to anybody in this neighborhood and they would tell you it's hard for them to believe," she said. "We all just love Larry."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. John Woodrow Cox can be reached at [email protected]

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