Thursday, December 14, 2017
Public safety

Suspect arrested, boy unhurt after massive manhunt in Pasco

Megan Brown was afraid of Adam Matos.

He could be obsessive and aggressive. Sometimes he shouted and punched things. Recently he pulled a knife on her, investigators say. She didn't want him around their 4-year-old son.

"I tried to give her a safe haven," said Jim Sigler, who owns the Fisherman's Shack bar in Hudson where Brown worked. "I told her she would be welcome at my house."

She declined.

On Friday, it appeared that Brown was one of the four people murdered at a horrid crime scene in Hudson, according to a search warrant affidavit. The other victims: Browns' parents and Nicholas Leonard, who were staying at or visiting a house in northwest Pasco County.

The same day, after a massive search and a tip from a cab driver, investigators found Matos and the boy at a hotel in downtown Tampa. Matos, who remains in jail, has not been charged in the killings, but the Pasco County sheriff called him the main suspect. The boy, who is autistic, was okay.

As officers led Matos, 28, to a cruiser, he told reporters he had nothing to do with the killings.

"I love my son and I hope that he's safe right now," he said.

• • •

Thursday morning, someone called authorities after being unable to reach anyone at the beige, two-story house at 7719 Hatteras Drive in Hudson. Deputies went in and found blood — lots of it — a foul odor and a projectile, the warrant affidavit showed.

They fanned out through the neighborhood, eventually following a trail to a hill nearby where four bodies were "piled up on each other," Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco said. There was no trace of Matos or the boy, Ismael "Tristan" Santisteban.

Authorities launched a massive search. Pennsylvania State Police searched the family's hometown there. Pasco deputies and the FBI combed bars, homeless camps and neighborhoods.

From a news conference set up near the crime scene Thursday night, Nocco looked into TV cameras and pleaded with Matos: "If you're watching this, please just let the Sheriff's Office have Tristan."

Shortly after the cameras left, Salvatore Pizzo, a driver for Joe's Taxi in New Port Richey, got a call to pick up a man in Hudson.

Just blocks from where the four bodies had been found, a dark-haired man and a small boy got in the cab. Pizzo asked where they were coming from.

"My cousin's house," Pizzo recalled the man saying. "I'm headed to Fort Myers to spend time with my family."

He wanted to go to a Greyhound bus station in Tampa. He paid the $105 fare in cash up front.

Pizzo had something to drink, and the boy asked for some, he said. They stopped at the Circle K in Moon Lake at State Road 52, and the man bought chocolate milk for the boy and a bag of chips. He buckled the boy in.

"You could tell he cared about the kid," Pizzo said. "The kid came first."

Later, Pizzo got a call from authorities checking with local cab companies. At about 1:30 a.m., he was shown some photos.

"That's him," he told investigators, pointing to Matos.

Tampa police alerted downtown businesses to look for Matos and Tristan. They also began canvassing the area, asking people on the street if they had seen the pair.

Several people saw Matos at the Greyhound station near the historic Floridan Palace Hotel, police said. He asked about bus fares but did not purchase a ticket. Authorities believe he was planning to travel to Key West.

He checked into the hotel under his own name at about midnight, Tampa police Chief Jane Castor said. He stayed in Room 1803, the sole guest on the 18th floor. He called the front desk at least once to ask how to connect to the Internet.

Hotel staff called police, and Tampa and Pasco SWAT teams congregated in the lobby and lured Matos out of his room with a "ruse," Castor said.

Matos was arrested at about 6 a.m. Inside his hotel room, officers found Tristan unharmed.

Matos had on him an iPhone, a Samsung tablet, a child's backpack, several credits cards, a Social Security card and $631 in cash, the warrant affidavit showed.

Police were looking for a gun and knife they believe were used in the murders, according to the warrant, but did not report finding them in the hotel room.

With two officers at his sides, Matos stood in a breezeway before a throng of reporters and spoke briefly. Asked why he took the boy, Matos said, "Because he's my son."

Pasco authorities said Tristan was in good spirits but confused. He wanted to know where he was going and why he was being moved from place to place. The boy is in the custody of child protective services.

Matos was booked in the Hillsborough County Jail on a Pasco County warrant for aggravated assault stemming from the knife incident with Brown. He was held on $200,000 bail.

• • •

Megan Brown met Ismael Santisteban, 25, in 2008 while he was working at a Five Guys Burgers and Fries in Orefield, Pa. Things went well for three years before they broke it off and she began seeing Matos.

Santisteban kept in contact with Brown, and she confided in him about her fear of Matos.

When Brown became pregnant, Santisteban was in the hospital room for the birth. He gave the baby his name, handed down by his grandfather.

But, he said, a DNA test later confirmed that Matos was the father. Santisteban dropped contact after that. Brown moved to Florida. He went to Nebraska.

He last caught up with her July 21 through a Facebook chat. She loved Florida, she told him. She had a job at a bar. The family would soon move to Key West. She never mentioned Matos.

He heard the news from an old mutual friend Thursday night.

He's worried for the boy he once considered a son.

"It's just a bunch of madness around him," Santisteban said, "and I feel so bad."

Times staff writers Katie Mettler and Keeley Sheehan, and researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Contact Alex Orlando at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.

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