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Police shoot St. Petersburg man they say set fire to home

Authorities call in heavy equipment to take down the rest of a home at 494 44th Ave N in St. Petersburg that was destroyed by fire early Sunday. The home’s owner was being evicted after foreclosure. Police say Paul Allen Sibley set the fire and later shot at officers. Sibley was wounded and faces multiple charges.

LAURA MOREL | Times

Authorities call in heavy equipment to take down the rest of a home at 494 44th Ave N in St. Petersburg that was destroyed by fire early Sunday. The home’s owner was being evicted after foreclosure. Police say Paul Allen Sibley set the fire and later shot at officers. Sibley was wounded and faces multiple charges.

ST. PETERSBURG — Paul Allen Sibley has experienced a series of misfortunes in the past decade.

His wife, Susan W. Sibley, died at the age of 57 in 2005. A few years later, he lost his job.

Then in December, Sibley's house was foreclosed. He had recently received an eviction notice to move out of the 840-square-foot home at 494 44th Ave N.

Instead, Sibley, 69, set the house on fire, St. Petersburg police said.

The home was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived about 12:30 a.m. Sunday. As they began to extinguish the blaze, a neighbor noticed Sibley standing in her back yard holding a semiautomatic handgun and several containers of ammunition. He fired at least one round at officers, police said.

SWAT team members arrived while firefighters tried to control the blaze by spraying water from a distance. About 3:15 a.m., Sibley raised his gun at the swarm of officers. They fired and struck Sibley in an arm and a leg, police said. He was treated at the scene by paramedics and taken to a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Sibley left a note on a nearby fire hydrant in which he admitted to starting the fire, according to an arrest affidavit. Police also found another note on a car parked in front of the burning house that said there were explosives inside, though none were found.

"About 4 o'clock in the morning I heard a bunch of shots," said neighbor Trish Langan, who added she could see the flames from her house a block away. "I stood outside my front yard and it was a wall of heat. It was crazy."

After his arrest, about two dozen firefighters extinguished the remaining flames within an hour.

The three officers who discharged their guns were Bradley Bryan, 48; Robert Peters, 42; and Matthew Hansell, 41. They will be placed on administrative leave pending a review of the shooting, police said.

Sibley faces several charges, including first-degree arson, two counts of attempted murder of an officer, and two counts of aggravated assault on an officer, jail records show.

He has never been arrested before in Florida, according to state records.

On Sunday morning, smoke wafted from the burnt remains of the home. A charred car stood under the blackened frame of a car port.

Sibley's neighbors describe him as a quiet man who often offered neighbors rides to work or a hand with landscaping.

"That is the type of person he is," neighbor Michael Burnett said.

Sibley lived alone in the house that property records show he purchased in 2000. He had been married for 25 years. Before his wife's death, the couple worked together in the cafeteria at Florida Blood Services, now called OneBlood Inc.

"We knew that he was in financial trouble because he had lost his job a couple years ago," Burnett said, adding the house "was the last thing he had in the world."

The current owner of the home is the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, records show.

Before the fire, Sibley, dropped off bicycle parts outside Burnett's home. Sibley and Burnett's 17-year-old step-daughter used to repair bikes together.

"He just has a heart of gold," Burnett said.

Sibley was booked into the Pinellas County Jail, where he remained Sunday without bail.

Times staff researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Contact Laura C. Morel at lmorel@tampabay.com or (727)445-4157. On Twitter: @lauracmorel.

Police shoot St. Petersburg man they say set fire to home 04/27/14 [Last modified: Sunday, April 27, 2014 10:09pm]
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