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In St. Petersburg, a volatile relationship ends in violence and a police shooting

ST. PETERSBURG — A St. Petersburg woman shot to death by police Tuesday night had a long and volatile relationship with the woman she is accused of attacking with a large barbecue fork.

Friends described 42-year-old Julie Goodson as an orphan who grew up in abusive homes, married an abusive man, then lived in a women's shelter. There, friends say, she fell in love with a counselor named Wendy Ott.

"I know Julie well enough to know that the only person who could push her buttons was Wendy," said friend Dane Hamilton. "Wendy knew it and did it often."

Tuesday night, Goodson went to Ott's house at 5237 Second Ave. N — a home they shared until a few months ago — to retrieve a food stamp card and a computer table, Goodson's friend Jack Sally said.

Police say the first hint of trouble came at 8:07 p.m. when a 911 call ended with a hangup. Dispatchers called back and heard "crashing sounds, people yelling, and the sounds of someone in distress," police said.

A police sergeant and several officers went to the house and heard fighting inside, they said. The officers forced their way through a locked door, where they found Goodson holding Ott, 44, on the kitchen floor.

Goodson was holding the fork to Ott's throat, police said, and threatening to hurt her. The sergeant told Goodson to put down the fork. Instead, she lifted the fork as if to stab Ott, police said.

That's when the sergeant and an officer fired, hitting Goodson in the upper body. It was unclear how many shots were fired.

Goodson died at the scene.

The officers were identified Wednesday afternoon as Sgt. Joseph H. Collins, 57, who has been with St. Petersburg Police for 15 years. Officer Robert A. Virant, 37, has been with the department nearly two years, said spokesman Bill Proffitt.

The police did not release more details about what led up to the shooting. The State Attorneys Office and the police department will investigate the shooting to determine if it was justified. The officers who shot Goodson have been placed on paid administrative leave, which is routine in police shootings.

"My initial feeling is the officers were probably put in a very difficult situation," said police Chief Chuck Harmon. "There's nothing to indicate they did anything improper, but of course we're going to conduct a full review."

Harmon said Ott told police at the scene Tuesday that the officers didn't do anything wrong.

Police are directed to use deadly force if they believe someone's life is immediately in danger. Harmon said police faced with saving someone's life can't count on a Taser or shooting to injure to eliminate the threat.

Stella Hairelson, Goodson's 86-year-old friend and former landlady, described her as a doting mother of two who was struggling financially but seemed happier in recent months after moving out of the house she had shared for five years with Ott.

"They fought a lot, but they would make up," said Hairelson. "Julie called me a couple of months ago and told me she moved to the south side of town, and she sounded happy. I hadn't heard her so happy in I don't know how many years."

Rita Bruno, who lives alone with her golden retriever two doors from the home, said she heard four gunshots Tuesday night. The Live Oak neighborhood is so quiet she assumed the shots she heard were from TV.

Bruno said she moved there in 2001 and that Ott and Goodson moved in two houses down about a year later. "They seemed real nice,'' she said. "They've never been in a fight that I'm aware of.''

Hairelson also described Goodson and Ott as "very nice people" but said they frequently argued.

"Julie, she had a lot of hard luck in her life, you know," Hairelson said. "She worked hard, doing carpenter work and painting. She wasn't in the best of health, just more or less kind of nerved up. She couldn't make things go, couldn't make ends meet. She was trying, you know?"

Goodson suffered from epileptic seizures, Sally said. Police said she had previously overdosed, and the incident report listed several medications for seizures, anxiety, mood stabilizing and other disorders.

Records show Ott was taken to Bayfront Medical Center with unspecified injuries. She could not be reached Wednesday. Ott also has a son, Hairelson said. Neither woman has a criminal record.

Goodson had two children with her ex-husband: a teenage girl, friends said, and a son who was about to come home from Iraq.

Court records show Goodson was granted an injunction for protection from her ex-husband in 1991, and the two divorced in 1994.

Ott, a graduate of the University of Mississippi, was a licensed social worker and, at one point, she was a case manager for adult mental health services at Directions for Mental Health. She was once recognized for outstanding performance by the state. She now works for Bay Pines VA Medical Center, but a spokeswoman there would not say what she did or how long she has been employed there.

Times staff writers Stephanie Garry and Drew Harwell contributed to this report. Emily Nipps can be reached at (727) 893-8452.

In St. Petersburg, a volatile relationship ends in violence and a police shooting 02/11/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 13, 2009 8:56am]
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