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Hernando shooting victim pleaded for life, was shot anyway

BROOKSVILLE — More than a year before she was gunned down, Kathryn Donovan asked for protection from her brother, John Kalisz.

Donovan confronted Kalisz in December 2008 with allegations that he had molested her two daughters, ages 17 and 30 at the time.

"After this confrontation, John Kalisz became threatening and assulted [sic] a friend with knife in my home," Donovan wrote in a petition to the 5th Circuit Court. "He has since been threatening myself and family and we are afraid of him. He is armed and dangerous."

But the petition never went through because Donovan didn't show up for court.

Thirteen months later, authorities say, Kalisz, 55, drove to his 61-year-old sister's home on Wilhelm Road, west of Brooksville, armed with a 9mm Beretta. He had been practicing his aim in the woods an hour earlier, officials say.

The exact order of events is still unclear, but here is what investigators say happened just before 3 p.m. Thursday:

Kalisz entered the house and found his sister in an enclosed porch in the rear. He shot her three times. He continued outside and shot the manager of Donovan's home-based business, 59-year-old Deborah Buckley Tillotson, four times. Both died at the scene.

Kalisz knew his next victim well: Kathryn Donovan's 18-year-old daughter, Manessa, the niece he had allegedly molested.

Donovan was pregnant. She survived four bullet wounds, but her early-stage fetus was aborted during surgery at Tampa General Hospital.

Amy Wilson, 33, was in a nearby carport, shellacking a piece of wood. Kalisz walked up to her without a word.

"Please don't kill me," Wilson pleaded. "Please don't kill me."

She ran and fell in the back yard after taking at least one bullet.

Kalisz stood over her and fired at least one more round, Hernando County Sheriff Richard Nugent said. Wilson was in stable condition Friday at Tampa General.

As deputies converged on the house, Kalisz fled in his white Ford van. Driving north, he called a close friend, Jessica Denny, 25, in Connecticut with a confession: He had shot his sister and niece and would shoot any cops who tried to stop him.

"Why would you do that?" Denny recalled asking Kalisz. "They didn't do anything to deserve that."

By then, however, Kalisz had likely already made up his mind. Not long after that conversation, he killed a Dixie County sheriff's captain in a shootout. Kalisz was also shot. He was at Shands Hospital in Gainesville on Friday.

"I tried to keep him calm and tell him he didn't need to go out like that," Denny said, her voice breaking during a telephone interview Friday. "He didn't need to go out in a ball of fire."

• • •

The shootout may be the final, violent chapter in a long history of confrontations between Kalisz and law enforcement in at least three states. The 55-year-old roofer has a lengthy criminal record in Florida that dates back to 1975 and spans at least seven counties from Broward to Leon.

One of seven children, Kalisz had a tendency to get intoxicated and unruly in public. Several of his charges here and in Colorado are for disorderly intoxication.

In 1982, he was convicted in Martin County for burglary and carrying a concealed weapon. He was arrested 15 more times in Florida between then and the end of last year, records show, mostly for misdemeanors including petty larceny and fraud.

His arrest record in Connecticut was not immediately available Friday. But Nugent said Kalisz was arrested on a weapons charge there last February.

Kalisz often talked about his efforts to stay sober and was involved in Alcoholics Anonymous, said Kim Wagner of Homosassa, a longtime friend of Kathryn Donovan.

In December 2008, Kathryn Donovan told deputies that Kalisz had exposed himself and masturbated in front of one of her daughters several times in her home. She said her brother admitted that he had raped two women in the past.

When the daughter's boyfriend confronted Kalisz, the report states, Kalisz unfolded a Buck knife and held the blade several inches from the boyfriend's stomach. Donovan told deputies that Kalisz apologized when she confronted him and said he would leave the home, the report states.

The reports say Donovan feared retaliation by Kalisz.

The boyfriend, Daniel Panzini, related another incident in Donovan's house in early December 2008 when Kalisz swung a metal baton at him and lunged at him with scissors.

Kalisz later went back to Colorado and sent a text message to Donovan's daughter, saying that he had left a present under her mattress. She found nude photos of him.

Kalisz was brought back to Florida last February to face charges of lewd and lascivious contact with a child and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He pleaded no contest to the assault charge and to a reduced charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and got six years of probation.

He went to live in an RV he owned off U.S. 19 in Spring Hill. Donovan, who went by the nickname Kitty, went back to worrying, her friend Wagner said.

"She was afraid of him, and Manessa was afraid of him," she said. "They knew he was back in town and they knew he had guns. Kitty said, 'He's nuts, Kim.' "

• • •

As paramedics tended to his victims Thursday, Kalisz drove his beat-up Ford van north on U.S. 19. He drove past a billboard that said: "Famous last words: I'll get right with God later."

Sometime after 4 p.m., Hernando investigators picked up Kalisz's cell phone signal somewhere near Inglis and alerted authorities, who set up stop sticks and a sharpshooter in a rural area of Lafayette County. But Kalisz never made it that far.

Just before 5 p.m., Dixie County sheriff's deputies spotted the van and pulled in behind. Just into Cross City, Kalisz hooked a left into a BP station and pulled up to Pump 4.

According to two witnesses, the unmarked sheriff's units boxed the van in — one behind, one in front, one beside. The officers, still in their cars, started shouting for Kalisz to get out of the vehicle.

"He was trapped like that for about three or four minutes," said Matthew Devers, 25, who had stepped inside the BP for a pack of cigarettes.

Then sheriff's Capt. Chad Reed pulled up and jumped out of his car. Gunshots rang. Then more.

The witnesses — Devers and Larry McCann, 61, who was detailing cars beside the BP — said Kalisz fired first, then the officers opened fire. "There were bullets covering the concrete," Devers said.

McCann hid behind a trash bin beside the BP. He saw Reed turn with his hands over his mouth. When Reed took his hands away, blood poured from his face, and he fell.

Kalisz, who had stepped out of the van, climbed back in. The officers pried his handgun away, dragged him back out, his stomach bleeding, Devers said.

Emergency workers flew Reed to Shands Hospital in Gainesville, where he died.

Kalisz was shot six times, Nugent said. He faces three charges of murder — and possibly a fourth since Manessa Donovan's fetus died — and two counts of attempted murder.

"I've been doing this 37 years, and it seems like the good guy will succumb from a single gunshot wound and the bad guy — and this guy is a bad guy — can get shot multiple times and survive," Nugent said.

"That's unfortunate. This guy should have died in that shootout."

Late Thursday, the people of Cross City began to gather across the street, in the Foodland parking lot, as police stretched yellow tape around the BP. As the night dragged on, more showed up, until about 150 people stood in the Cross City dark, staring at the filling station and the empty place their friend and neighbor fell.

Times staff writers Logan Neill and Jamal Thalji; researchers Caryn Baird, Carolyn Edds and Will Gorham; and photographer Will Vragovic contributed to this report. Tony Marrero can be reached at or (352) 848-1431.

Hernando shooting victim pleaded for life, was shot anyway 01/15/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 16, 2010 1:50pm]
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