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No answers in year since St. Petersburg woman found slain in Hernando

BROOKSVILLE — A year later, the trail has officially gone cold.

Investigators have tracked down hundreds of leads, searched dozens of social-networking sites and scoured the streets of St. Petersburg. But no amount of detective work or resources has been able to produce answers — or an arrest — in Dominique Lewis' death.

Thus, last week the Hernando Sheriff's Office officially labeled the homicide a cold case.

"Detectives have been working on this case ever since her body was found," said Sgt. Donna Black, a spokeswoman for the Hernando County Sheriff's Office. "Any unsolved homicide is one that is constantly on the minds of this agency and all our detectives."

Lewis' body was found Dec. 11, 2007, in an isolated thicket of north Hernando County, decomposing next to train tracks about 25 yards off Brooksville Rock Road, a peculiar dumping ground for a 19-year-old woman who lived almost 75 miles away and had no known link to the area.

Lewis' body had been there for four or five days. Investigators have said signs of trauma on the body indicate homicide, but they declined to specify an exact cause of death.

Lewis had moved out of her mother's home days before Thanksgiving and found a room at the Bay Breeze Motel at 3900 34th St. in St. Petersburg, according to the Sheriff's Office. In the following days, Lewis visited friends at other hotels in the area of 34th Street.

The last time anyone was known to have contact with Lewis was Nov. 26, when she was stopped for a couple of traffic violations in St. Petersburg. After her body was found, authorities discovered her vehicle in the parking lot of a Fat Boys Beauty Supply store in St. Petersburg.

Complicating the investigation are the extensive relationships Lewis built through chat rooms and dating sites. Lewis had contact with people from many areas, including Hernando, Pasco and Citrus counties, Orlando and St. Petersburg. "It's not as easy as if it were someone in the neighborhood or on the phone," Black said Friday. "It's sent us on many different twists and turns."

Thus far, the only recorded homicide in Hernando in 2007 remains as much a mystery today as it was last December when a CSX railway worker traced a foul odor in a nearby patch of woods to a flock of vultures.

Since then, Lewis' family has had a mostly contentious relationship with the Sheriff's Office. Lewis' mother, Mary Lewis, told the Times in early May that she had stopped talking with detectives from Hernando.

"They don't tell me anything, and I'd rather not say anything about anything," Lewis said at the time. "She's dead and that's that. Let it rest. What am I supposed to do?"

Lewis also seemed to take issue with the detectives' characterization of her daughter's relationships with men she met on the Internet.

"I don't know anything about that," Lewis said. "I know she did know one man in Hernando County. She talked about getting money from him but she didn't get into details."

Lewis wasn't immediately available for comment; she has changed phone numbers in recent months.

Black said detectives would have to elaborate on their current relationship with Lewis' family; they also weren't immediately available for comment.

The death and the subsequent investigation have created a bit of uneasiness for William Hazivasilis, 79, who lives with his wife in a home shrouded by the woods about 50 yards away from where Lewis' body was discovered.

"It definitely put a scare in us," Hazivasilis said. "We're kind of over here in an out-of-the-way place. Someone had to know about this area to get over here."

Joel Anderson can be reached at joelanderson@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6120.

To help

Have a tip?

Anyone with information regarding this case should call the Sheriff's Office at (352) 754-6830. Anonymous tips can be made to Crime Stoppers toll-free at 1-866-990-TIPS (8477) or www.hernandosheriff.org/tips/. A $1,000 reward has been offered in the case.

No answers in year since St. Petersburg woman found slain in Hernando 12/14/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 15, 2008 2:32pm]
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