Sunday, April 22, 2018
Public safety

Four deadly domestic incidents this month in Pinellas don't constitute trend, expert says

LARGO — The crimes begin in different ways and different places, in a lipstick-red pickup truck swerving wildly down a six-lane road, or behind the locked doors of a quiet house in a leafy subdivision.

But they end in the same way: silence.

Gunshots fired in the parking lot of a Walgreens pharmacy in Largo on Wednesday punctuated the latest episode in a recent series of husband-wife murder-suicides and similar crimes in Pinellas County.

A Largo man turned his red Ford pickup into the pharmacy parking lot after what Largo police Lt. Mike Loux described as "a horrible disturbance" inside the vehicle that sent it swerving through traffic on Roosevelt Boulevard.

The unidentified man got out and fired multiple rounds from a gun into his wife, police and witnesses said. Then, he turned the gun on himself.

Just over 24 hours earlier, another couple, scheduled to move to California this week, was found dead in an apparent murder-suicide in their home on a peaceful cul-de-sac in Palm Harbor.

It was the third such incident in four days, counting a Sunday case in which a St. Petersburg man allegedly smothered his wife but then failed in his effort to kill himself by slitting his wrists. Earlier this month, a Clearwater couple also was found shot dead in their home, another murder-suicide.

Beyond establishing the basic facts necessary to rule out a double-homicide committed by an outside party, the police investigation of motive in a murder-suicide will typically be "cursory," Loux said, since there's no need to develop a case against a defendant who will go to court.

Such incidents can leave acquaintances and family members puzzling over the intimate and obviously troubled ties between the dead, or wondering how the incident might have been prevented.

"All the neighbors are in shock, because everyone who knew Steve knew him as such a lovely man," said George Ann Bissett, next-door neighbor to Stephen Walsh, 58, who police believe killed his wife, Donalyn, 53, and then himself Sunday night in their home at 1909 Forest View Drive in Palm Harbor.

The couple had planned to move to San Diego this week, and a large U-Haul van was parked in their driveway behind a row of police cruisers Tuesday, when the bodies were discovered.

"We would love to know what happened," Bissett said. "Now I guess we never will. How could we?"

In hindsight, such dramatic acts of violence can appear baffling. But there are red flags friends and family members can watch out for to prevent them, said Frieda Widera, who chairs the fatality review team of the Pinellas County Domestic Violence Task Force.

One is a spouse with a history of physical abuse — especially choking — who has access to weapons. The spouse might also have made death threats or have substance-abuse problems or a criminal record.

Several of these factors often converge in a domestic homicide or murder-suicide, Widera said. There is also anecdotal evidence in recent years that financial distress — unemployment, foreclosure, bankruptcy — has become a contributing factor.

However, none of these elements is a sure predictor of a domestic homicide or murder-suicide. In some cases, a tragedy is preceded by no signs at all.

"There's no absolute," Widera said. "We have a few cases where we have absolutely no red flags, and all of a sudden both people are dead."

• • •

The Walshes' adult children forced their way into the home on Forest View Drive on Tuesday morning after not hearing from their parents for two days. Family members at the home Wednesday declined to comment when approached by a reporter.

Stephen Walsh's aunt, Geanne Wyatt of Oklahoma City, said she has not seen her nephew since the 1990s. But she said there were no indications in his past that he was capable of violence.

"I've never known him to get into any trouble or nothing," she said. "He was always respectful in my presence. If there was ever anything I needed or anything, he was always most helpful."

Brian Loesch, Donalyn Walsh's former boss at a St. Petersburg eye clinic, described her as "a very nice individual" who was "caring for patients, easy to get along with."

The only known sign that trouble was brewing between the Walshes came Sunday night, when Pinellas County sheriff's deputies were called to their house because of an argument.

Donalyn left the house while the officers were present, only to return later, according to authorities. Sometime that night, investigators believe, Walsh shot and killed his wife with a .40-caliber Sig Sauer semiautomatic handgun and then killed himself.

Police have not identified the Largo couple who died Wednesday outside Walgreens, citing the need to notify next-of-kin before releasing their names to the media.

• • •

The recent murder-suicides might seem to constitute a trend. That's not the case, at least not yet, according to Widera. Six domestic homicides were recorded by the Pinellas task force last year, compared with four so far this year, Widera said.

The 2011 figure doesn't include Kelly Rothwell, a police cadet who disappeared last year and is presumed dead by detectives. Her boyfriend was labeled a suspect but has never been charged.

Those who fear they might be in danger from a spouse should seek help from a domestic violence program or law enforcement agency to plan their escape, Widera said.

"Some people say 'I gotta get out,' " Widera said. "But when they don't do that safely, that's when we have domestics occur. Because he's not going to let her out."

Times staff writer Drew Harwell contributed to this report.

Comments
Deputies: Florida man on LSD knocks out teen girl at RaceTrac while her parent pumps gas

Deputies: Florida man on LSD knocks out teen girl at RaceTrac while her parent pumps gas

ST. PETERSBURG — A man punched a 13-year-old girl inside a RaceTrac convenience store Saturday, knocking her unconscious as her parent pumped gas outside, Pinellas deputies reported.Kolbe Wayne Smith, 27, of St. Petersburg now faces charges of aggrav...
Updated: 5 hours ago
4 dead in Nashville Waffle House shooting; suspect sought

4 dead in Nashville Waffle House shooting; suspect sought

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A nearly naked gunman wearing only a green jacket and brandishing an assault rifle stormed a Waffle House restaurant in Nashville early Sunday, shooting four people to death before a customer rushed him and wrestled the weapo...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Tampa Police investigating fatal hit-and-run on Selmon Expressway

Tampa Police investigating fatal hit-and-run on Selmon Expressway

TAMPA — Police say a person is dead after a hit-and-run crash Sunday on the Selmon Expressway.Someone called authorities about 10 a.m., reporting a person on the entrance ramp to the highway near the intersection of W Cleveland Street and S Willow Av...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Teen killed in crash remembered as

Teen killed in crash remembered as "always smiling and laughing"

WEEKI WACHEE — Seth Leathers was on his way to play basketball at his church when he was killed Wednesday in a car crash on U.S. 19 in Spring Hill, according to family friend Laurie Pike.Leathers, 16, was the passenger in a car driven by his friend G...
Published: 04/22/18
New Port Richey doctor dies in single-car crash on SR 580

New Port Richey doctor dies in single-car crash on SR 580

A 49-year-old doctor died early Saturday in a single-car crash on State Road 580.Kristin Carlin, of New Port Richey, was driving in the eastbound lanes of SR 580 shortly before 6 a.m. when she failed to round a curve and veered off the road near Char...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Man with multiple gun arrests now accused of fatally shooting Durant High football player

Man with multiple gun arrests now accused of fatally shooting Durant High football player

The first time deputies arrested Samuel Morrissey Jr., he faced charges of possession of marijuana and carrying a concealed firearm. He plead no contest in September, and the judge gave him a break by withholding adjudication. Ten days later, the 20-...
Published: 04/21/18
Man who attacked woman and stole her shorts arrested, deputies say

Man who attacked woman and stole her shorts arrested, deputies say

Deputies arrested a man they said tackled a woman in February and removed her shorts before fleeing.Robert Mark Hembree Jr., 31, was arrested late Friday. He faces charges of sexual battery and petit theft.PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Detectives seek man who a...
Published: 04/21/18
Dade City man killed in early morning hit-and-run, police say

Dade City man killed in early morning hit-and-run, police say

A Pasco County man was struck and killed in an apparent hit-and-run early Saturday, police said.Thomas Michael Burdeshaw, 53, who lived on Sundance Drive in Dade City, was hit about 1:45 a.m. on the 36000 block of Blanton Road, police said.Witnesses ...
Published: 04/21/18
Police searching for person who shot a man to death in Largo

Police searching for person who shot a man to death in Largo

CLEARWATER — Police are looking for a person who shot and killed a man late Friday at the Melrose on the Bay apartments on Bolesta Road. Ricardo Guzman, 32, called 911 just before midnight and told the operator he had been shot, said Lt. Randall Chan...
Published: 04/21/18
Motorcyclist dies after crash on Memorial Highway

Motorcyclist dies after crash on Memorial Highway

TAMPA — A motorcyclist driving north on Memorial Highway died after he crashed into a guard rail late Friday, police said."The man failed to negotiate a curve in the road and struck a guard rail," said Lt. Brett Owen. "No other vehicle was involved i...
Published: 04/21/18