Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Police: Largo sanitation workers restrain burglary suspect until officers arrived

LARGO — Twenty-two years ago, Michael Kowalke played wide receiver and cornerback for Largo High's football team.

On Thursday, he got to play again.

A Largo sanitation worker for the past eight years, Kowalke, 41, had just turned the corner of a small residential street off Belcher Road in a garbage truck when he heard screams.

"Help!" shouted a girl standing outside a house in the 1000 block of Lexington Court.

Kowalke stopped. So did his manager, Michael Gordon, who was driving behind him while Kowalke tried out a new truck.

The 14-year-old told Kowalke that moments before, a stranger wearing socks on his hands knocked on the front door. Home alone, she didn't answer and he slipped into the back yard and tried to break in, Largo police said.

She called her mother, who told her to get out.

Kowalke and the girl headed toward the back of the home, where she pointed out a window toward the man, whom police later identified as Matthew Olver, standing outside. He ran and jumped over a 6-foot stockade fence. Kowalke sprinted out the front door, ran Olver down and tackled him in the front yard of a neighbor's home.

"It happened so fast," said Gordon, who was standing outside. "He came running toward us and Mike took him down."

Kowalke gripped Olver in a headlock and wrapped his legs around him. Gordon pinned him to the ground with his knees.

"He was a pretty big boy," Kowalke said. "He was trying to get away, so it was just a big old scuffle."

Then Gordon saw the 5-inch knife in Olver's hand.

"The guy is trying to stab both of us," he said.

But Gordon swiftly twisted Olver's hand until he let go. Gordon tossed the knife away and Michael Fitzgerald, who owns the garbage truck, picked it up before Olver could snatch it from the grass.

Olver, 20, struggled with the men.

"I had him and then he was trying to get out and he tried to bite my arm," Kowalke said. "I grabbed his nose and twisted it and pushed it toward his eyes, and he didn't bite anymore."

They restrained Olver until Largo officers arrived.

Olver, who was under the influence of drugs, declined to speak to police, according to an arrest affidavit.

The girl's parents, who could not be reached for comment Friday, arrived and thanked Gordon, Kowalke and Fitzgerald.

"I just think I did the right thing," Kowalke said. "I don't consider myself a hero."

Olver, of 5978 114th Ter. N, Pinellas Park, faces charges of armed burglary and two counts of aggravated assault.

He remained at the Pinellas County Jail on Friday in lieu of $170,000 bail.

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

Police: Largo sanitation workers restrain burglary suspect until officers arrived 06/06/14 [Last modified: Friday, June 6, 2014 8:58pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Gov. Rick Scott could soon be the all-time king of line-item veto


    2016: $256,144,027

    2015: $461,387,164

    2014: $68,850,121

    2013: $367,950,394

    2012: $142,752,177

    2011: $615,347,550

    Only once has Scott used the line-item veto sparingly. That was in 2014, the year he ran for re-election, when he removed a paltry $69 million from the budget.

    Gov. Rick Scott waves a veto pen at The Villages in 2011.
  2. Rays morning after: An up-and down day for Jose De Leon


    Rays RHP Jose De Leon had a busy Monday - getting called up to join the Rays for the first time and making his way from Pawtucket, R.I., to Boston and the flying to Texas, working 2 2/3 eventful innings to get the W in the 10-8 victory over the Rangers, and then getting optioned back to Triple-A.

  3. White House communications director Dubke steps down


    WASHINGTON — Mike Dubke, White House communications director, has resigned in what could be the start of a series of changes to President Donald Trump's senior staff.

    President Donald Trump speaks at the Memorial Amphitheater in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Monday, May 29, 2017, during a Memorial Day ceremony. [Associated Press]
  4. Trump pays somber tribute to fallen troops on Memorial Day


    ARLINGTON, Va. — President Donald Trump expressed the nation's "boundless" gratitude for the ultimate sacrifice paid by Americans defending the United States, dedicating his first Memorial Day address as commander in chief to a top Cabinet secretary and two other families who lost loved ones.

    Brittany Jacobs, left, watches as her 6-year-old son Christian Jacobs meets President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, Monday, May 29, 2017, in Arlington, Va. Jacobs father, Marine Sgt. Christopher Jacobs, was killed in 2011. [Associated Press]
  5. Florida education news: Budgets, discipline, charter schools and more


    BUDGETING: Florida school district officials keep a close eye on their spending plans as they await word on the Legislature's budget. Gov. Rick Scott