NEW PORT RICHEY – Anthony "Billy" Stinnett, a man with an extensive arrest record, stood there in the middle of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office Thursday morning. He was quiet and looked tense, maybe because of the camera lenses and snapping shutters all around him. He clasped a hand over the flames and skulls and number 13 inked on his forearm while the sheriff spoke.
"Billy, stepped up," said Sheriff Chris Nocco, holding a plaque and turning to Stinnett. "I can't thank you enough for your actions."
Nocco was referring to what happened in a lonely 7-Eleven parking lot on Jan. 4, the night Stinnett saved a deputy's life.
Stinnett, his fiancee, Tosha Jung, and her 15-year-old brother were the only ones at the gas station at 6926 Little Road, on a late-night trip to get soda. Before they went into the convenience store, a deputy's cruiser pulled up. Stinnett, 35, heard thumping coming from the back.
Then the back window of the cruiser exploded and Osvaldo Flores, 30, jumped out. Flores ran to Deputy John Brown, slipped his handcuffs around Brown's neck and began strangling him, authorities said.
Stinnett dashed across the lot. He muscled the cuffs from the deputy's neck and held Flores on the ground until other deputies arrived.
The deputy escaped with minor injuries. Flores remains in the Land O'Lakes jail on charges of attempted murder, escape and criminal mischief in addition to his previous charges of drug possession and violating a domestic violence injunction.
Nocco called Stinnett to the Sheriff's Office on Thursday to give him the Citizen Service Award.
After a short speech from Nocco, they stood side-by-side while news cameras rolled. Jung stood in the back of the room and snapped photos of the whole spectacle.
"It's amazing how a simple act of going to the store to get some pop can turn into something incredible like this," she said.
"I never thought I'd be standing here," Stinnett told reporters and the sheriff.
His arrest record stretches back to the mid-1990s, when he went to prison for four years for burglary, grand theft and resisting an officer with violence. His most recent arrest was for DUI last year. Saving the deputy a few weeks ago marked a turning point for him, he said.
Nocco presented Stinnett with a teal, marbled plaque with shining letters on the front, thanking him, For your quick response in providing assistance to a Pasco County Sheriff's deputy by helping him restrain a suspect who was trying to escape.
Stinnett said he'll hang it in his front room.
Alex Orlando can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.