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St. Petersburg man fatally shot trying to stop car theft

ST. PETERSBURG — Floyd Lassiter had a bad feeling.

On Thursday, someone broke into the small home on 25th Street S that Lassiter shared with his wife and children, police say. Among other items, a set of keys was stolen.

On Friday, Lassiter worried that his family's two cars were vulnerable, said Robert Dykes, who lives a few doors down the street. Lassiter wanted to get the ignition systems changed as soon as possible.

"He said he knew they were going to come back for it," Dykes said "They must have come back."

•••

When Lassiter confronted two would-be car thieves early Saturday morning, the 53-year-old auto parts manager and retired U.S. Army master sergeant was defending property parked in front of his childhood home.

Lassiter attended Pinellas Park Middle School, played football all four years at Boca Ciega High School and graduated in 1978, said longtime friend Danny Carter. They went to school together, lived on the same street and played baseball at the Wildwood and Lake Vista recreation centers.

"A nice, calm guy," Carter said. "He didn't let much of anything upset him."

Lassiter spent two decades in the Army and always considered the house on the 1800 block of 25th Street S his home base, Carter said. His parents lived there until they died, and Floyd and his wife, Pat, made it their home. Their son is older, their daughter still in high school, friends said.

On a street of tidy homes, the Lassiters' was among the most immaculately kept, with lush grass and shrubs trimmed to geometric perfection. Lassiter had a reputation as a friendly, easygoing family man who was proud of his family and always willing to lend.

About a week ago, the last time Carter saw him, the men talked about planting grass in the yard of a recently widowed woman.

Lassiter got a job in the shipping department at Crown Eurocars in St. Petersburg in 2000 and was promoted to parts manager six years later, said general manager Larry Casto. He ran the department with military precision and garnered loyalty from his staff, Casto said.

"They all had as much respect for him as he had for them," Casto said.

Lassiter took the day off Friday to repair a window broken during the burglary. He suspected that whoever had broken in had been in the house before, Casto said, because they seemed to know what to look for and where to find it.

Though he didn't officially work on Saturdays, Lassiter usually came in to check on his department. About 7:30 a.m. Saturday, Casto got a text message and immediately knew two things: Lassiter was gone, and it would be very difficult to sell cars that day.

•••

Six hours earlier, police say, Lassiter got into a struggle with one of two suspects trying to steal one of his cars. The other suspect shot him multiple times in the upper torso. The suspects fled on foot, leaving Lassiter lying near the curb. He died at 2:09 a.m. at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.

No suspects had been identified Saturday, and investigators had not yet confirmed that the shooting and burglary are related, said police spokesman Mike Puetz.

"There's a link somewhere there, we would suspect," Puetz said.

Danny Carter's mother, Vernell, who taught Floyd Lassiter's boyhood Bible study class, was reading Saturday when she heard a gunshot, then a pause, then three or four more shots. She called 911.

Now Carter is mourning, and uneasy about a murderer on the loose.

"It doesn't surprise me at all that he would defend himself and his family like that," she said.

No one was home when a Tampa Bay Times reporter visited Saturday. The metallic gray paint of Floyd Lassiter's Camry gleamed in the morning sun as a forensic technician brushed dust onto the spotless surface.

Times news researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow @tmarrerotimes on Twitter.

St. Petersburg man fatally shot trying to stop car theft 05/10/14 [Last modified: Saturday, May 10, 2014 9:19pm]
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