Monday, January 22, 2018
Public safety

Third inmate this year commits suicide in Pinellas County Jail

LARGO — Hours before he was scheduled to appear in court to face a sentence of up to 30 years in prison, Larry Kobielnik killed himself.

Deputies found him hanging by a shoelace early Thursday in the shower of his single cell, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said.

Kobielnik is the third inmate to commit suicide in the Pinellas County Jail this year, the second to kill himself after being convicted.

His death will be investigated, but Gualtieri said the suicides do not warrant a special review of procedures for evaluating the mental health of inmates.

"Just because that happens doesn't mean that there's anything improper or irregular or that we did anything wrong," he said Thursday.

A former Tarpon Springs police and Transportation Security Administration officer, Kobielnik, 38, was arrested in July 2013 on charges of sexual battery and impersonating an officer. He was convicted Wednesday of raping a woman at his Dunedin home after picking her up in Clearwater, telling her he was an officer and handcuffing her, the Sheriff's Office said.

His sentencing hearing was scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday. Instead, Kobielnik used the lace of his shoe to kill himself. Inmates are allowed to keep their shoes unless they are boots or contain metal.

In April, David Brice Tyler, 56, was found guilty of soliciting to commit murder. Seven weeks before his sentencing, Tyler, a convicted sex offender, hung himself in his cell with a bedsheet.

In a third case, England Wilson, 32, was being detained on federal firearms and robbery charges. He was found hanging from a cell gate with a sheet May 23 as deputies escorted inmates out to recreation, the Sheriff's Office said.

Attorneys representing Kobielnik and Wilson said they were shocked and did not observe any suicidal behavior from their clients.

"There was no indication," said Kobielnik's attorney, Brian Pingor. "The last thing we talked about was him doing his appeal."

Tyler, however, said he was suicidal and had written graphic letters about his desire to die, said his attorney, Deborah Moss.

"People who are facing this type of devastation are probably going to have a thought that they want to kill themselves," she said, "and we have to watch them very closely."

But deputies didn't notice any indications that any of the men were at risk, Gualtieri said.

"Sometimes, these things happen," he said. "You do the best you can."

The last jail suicide reported before this year occurred in October 2011.

Jackie Allen Randall had been on suicide watch in a Hillsborough jail before he was transferred to Pinellas, where he was also placed on suicide watch. He was examined and cleared to go to a maximum-security cell, where he hung himself. Randall had an upcoming trial on charges of escape and robbery.

At the Pinellas jail, which has an average daily population of roughly 3,000, inmates are placed on suicide watch after being evaluated by a mental health professional if the inmate requests an appointment or if another inmate or deputy notices any suicidal behavior.

Potentially suicidal inmates are housed in single cells at the jail's health care facility, where they are dressed in a paper garment and monitored by deputies and cameras 24 hours a day. Cameras also monitor common areas and corridors of the jail, but are not located within most cells.

Inmates are not routinely evaluated after being convicted, the sheriff said.

At the Hillsborough jails, inmates sentenced to between 30 years and life in prison are given a mental health evaluation, said Maj. Paul Adee, who oversees the medical unit. But other than that, he said: "the key to this is if the person is exhibiting symptoms."

The Pasco County jail also doesn't evaluate recently convicted or sentenced inmates unless something warrants it, said Maj. Ed Beckman.

It is difficult to predict what someone will do and when they will do it, he added, noting a suicide at the Pasco jail this year.

Theodore Diller, 70, who was on trial for the first-degree murder of his wife, intentionally fell head-first from the second floor of the facility. Diller died at a hospital of his injuries, Beckman said.

Sometimes, Beckman said, "the person doesn't exhibit any kind of warning signs. They just do it."

Times staff writer Claire Wiseman contributed to this report. Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] or (727)445-4157. On Twitter: @lauracmorel.

Police release photos of men sought for questioning in Florida mall blast

Police release photos of men sought for questioning in Florida mall blast

LAKE WALES — Police say two devices ignited inside a mall in central Florida on Sunday do not appear to be an act of terrorism.According to the FBI, bomb technicians examining the contents of a backpack found at Eagle Ridge Mall in Lake Wales on Sund...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Something new for Gasparilla — your own private boat captain

Something new for Gasparilla — your own private boat captain

TAMPA — The Gasparilla Parade of Pirates may be this city’s most festive event, but law enforcement maintains its zero-tolerance policy for drinking and driving, whether on land or on water.So if you plan on consuming alcohol at the parade, get home ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Clearwater police arrest man in taxi jacking near Crest Lake Park

Clearwater police arrest man in taxi jacking near Crest Lake Park

CLEARWATER — Police officers arrested a 38-year-old man they say robbed a taxi driver at knifepoint Monday morning near Crest Lake Park.According to Clearwater police, Samuel Eric Brown, of Clearwater, stole cash from a driver for United Cab, took th...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Police: Driver rear-ends school bus in Clearwater

Police: Driver rear-ends school bus in Clearwater

CLEARWATER — A driver rear-ended Monday a school bus on the way to Safety Harbor Middle. None of the 38 students on board were hurt in the crash in the eastbound lanes of NE Coachman Road just west of U.S. 19, according to Clearwater police. Most boa...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Deputies seek hit-and-run driver who seriously injured bicyclist in Plant City

Deputies seek hit-and-run driver who seriously injured bicyclist in Plant City

Hillsborough County deputies are searching for the driver who seriously injured a bicyclist in a hit-and-run crash in Dover on Monday morning.Deputies say the suspect was driving a Toyota Camry that is now missing part of its right front air dam afte...
Updated: 7 hours ago

Woman, 35, struck and killed while walking across SR 60 in Valrico

VALRICO — A 35-year-old Thonotosassa woman was struck and killed by a car while walking across State Road 60 west of Mount Carmel Road on Sunday night, the Florida Highway Patrol said.Brandi Eckelstafer was walking south across SR 60 just after 8 p....
Updated: 8 hours ago

Hillsborough diver who died in Eagle’s Nest Cave was adventurous but experienced

Davin Brannon was a pilot, a spearfisherman, an avid cave and open-water diver and an experienced all-around adventurer, said those close to him ."I guess you could say he died doing what he loved," his cousin Pam Kirven said. "But I also know he’d n...
Published: 01/21/18

Deputies: 18-year-old speeding on U.S. 19 faces charges of DUI, fleeing scene

PALM HARBOR — A speeding driver on U.S. 19 refused to stop for deputies and took off, later rear-ending a car and injuring three people early Sunday morning, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.A little after 1:30 a.m., Kingzig Montanez...
Published: 01/21/18
Woman dies after falling ‘several decks’ from a balcony on a Carnival cruise

Woman dies after falling ‘several decks’ from a balcony on a Carnival cruise

A woman sailing on a Carnival Cruise Line ship from Jacksonville fell from her cabin’s balcony and died Friday.Doral-based Carnival Cruise Line spokesman Vance Gulliksen confirmed the death Saturday, saying in a statement that the incident occurred e...
Published: 01/21/18
Diver from Dover dies in treacherous Eagle’s Nest cave

Diver from Dover dies in treacherous Eagle’s Nest cave

WEEKI WACHEE — The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office on Saturday investigated the death of a Hillsborough County man in the Eagle’s Nest, an underwater network of caves where at least 11 others have died since 1981.Even experienced divers have lost th...
Published: 01/20/18