Sunday, February 18, 2018
Public safety

Witness recounts Tarpon Springs officer shooting

TARPON SPRINGS — Evelyn Desiree Santiago knew Marco Antonio Parilla Jr. was on probation, that he was once in prison.

But she didn't know he had a gun until Parilla walked toward her with his head down in the parking lot of a Tarpon Springs apartment complex early Sunday morning. When he looked up, Santiago turned around to see what Parilla was staring at and saw Officer Charles Kondek holding a gun.

Santiago huddled inside a car, bracing for shots.

"I just put my head down. That was my first instinct," she said Tuesday during her first public interview since Kondek's slaying. "I put my head down and all I hear is shooting and glass and all that craziness."

• • •

Three people know what happened in the moments before Sunday's shooting. One of them is dead, the other in jail. Santiago is wishing none of it happened,

Santiago, 25, had some friends over for drinks Saturday night at her Holiday apartment in Pasco County. Parilla was among them.

They met four months ago at a Tarpon Springs bar Santiago frequented on Tuesdays. Mutual friends introduced them and they exchanged phone numbers.

"I've been hanging out with him ever since," she said, adding he sometimes cooked for her children, ages 5, 3, and 1.

She had heard he was on probation and that he had lost his job at Hellas Wholesale Bakery in Tarpon Springs.

"He was trying to get his stuff together," she said. "I don't really know too much about what happened with that. I didn't ask too many questions."

Parilla and Santiago sometimes drove around town together, with no particular destination in mind, she said. So she wasn't alarmed early Sunday when, while he was driving a Hyundai Elantra they borrowed from a friend, Parilla said he wanted to see someone where he used to live at the Glen's Eureka Apartments.

The Sheriff's Office would later say he was there to find someone who told police about his drug activity, which led to Parilla facing charges for a probation violation.

"He didn't seem mad at all," Santiago said. "Everything was fine … that's why I went. I had no bad feeling either. If I have a bad feeling about something, I won't go."

• • •

Parilla pulled into the parking lot of 199 Grand Blvd. and got out to talk to someone in an apartment, Santiago said. She stayed in the car, music blaring.

A man tapped on the Hyundai's window and asked her to turn it down. She flicked him off. Santiago had a feeling he would call the cops, she said, so she got out of the car, told Parilla they had to go and was backing the Hyundai out. Then a police cruiser pulled behind her.

Parilla was walking toward the car when he spotted Kondek and shot at him several times, the Sheriff's Office said, striking him once fatally above his bulletproof vest.

Then Parilla told Santiago to move.

"I just ran," she said. "I ran from the scene. I was scared."

Parilla got into the Hyundai and ran over Kondek as Jareem Roach, his former roommate at Glen's Eureka, fired five rounds from a 9mm gun as Parilla sped away, the Sheriff's Office said.

Roach, 24, was arrested Monday night in New Port Richey on charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm and failing to appear in court on a Hills­borough driving charge. Detectives were still determining Tuesday why he shot at Parilla.

Within minutes, Parilla slammed into a power pole and hit the back of a Ford truck at Athens and Cross streets in the Sponge Docks district. Officers chased him and found him hiding beneath a wooden staircase.

Parilla was arrested. Kondek was rushed to Florida Hospital North Pinellas, where he died.

• • •

A friend who saw Santiago walking along Alt. U.S. 19 took her home, she said. Patrol cars soon swarmed her parking lot. A detective knocked on her door.

Santiago said she understands now that leaving the apartment complex without calling police was not the right thing to do.

"I do feel bad about what happened," she said. "I never experienced anything like that in my life. Somebody getting shot and dying in front of me. I have to live with that, too."

She wants to visit Parilla at the Pinellas County Jail, where he remains without bail on a first-degree murder charge.

"I just wish he just didn't shoot him and he would have just cooperated with police," Santiago said.

When she thinks of Kondek's family, she starts to cry.

"I'm sorry for what happened," Santiago said. "I am deeply sorry."

Times staff researcher John Martin and Times staff writer Zachary T. Sampson contributed to this report. Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] or (727)445-415. Follow @lauracmorel.

     
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