St. Petersburg police looking for suspect in reported kidnapping, severe stabbing

Authorities say two men lured a retail merchandiser to a St. Petersburg apartment, tied him up him in the trunk of his car and drove to Hillsborough County before returning to St. Petersburg and stabbing him.

Pinellas deputies arrested one man on kidnapping charges but the suspect in the stabbing was still not found early Friday afternoon. Police did not release information on the second suspect.

Authorities said Sohil Merchant, 27, who lives in Tampa, went to 15250 Verona Ave., Apt. A, to purchase something about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

"There were drug overtones to it," said Bill Proffitt, St. Petersburg police spokesman.

It was here that deputies believe two armed men tied Merchant up and placed him in the trunk of his 2009 Lexus GS 300. Then they drove to Hillsborough County, he said.

The men wanted an undisclosed amount of money for ransom, he said.

While inside the car, Merchant texted a friend that he needed "a large sum of money," Proffitt said. His friend called Hillsborough sheriff's deputies.

Hillsborough deputies sent an alert to local law enforcement telling them to be on the lookout for the vehicle. They said it was headed back to Pinellas County. It was not clear how Hillsborough deputies were involved.

One suspect left the vehicle at some point in Hillsborough, Proffitt said. The other drove the Lexus — with Merchant still inside the trunk — to St. Petersburg.

After parking the car near Fifth Avenue N and 38th Street N, police said he stabbed Merchant multiple times. He left Merchant and drove away in his Lexus.

Someone called police at 1:36 a.m. Thursday and told them a man was tied up and bleeding badly, Proffitt said. Police said Merchant was sitting in front of a house and trying to take off his bindings.

He was taken to Bayfront Medical Center with severe wounds, Proffitt said.

His injuries were serious but not life-threatening, but Proffitt said police are investigating the case as an attempted murder.

Police found the Lexus abandoned near the 3500 block of Seventh Avenue N and impounded it.

Later Thursday, authorities worked together to find the man who they believe was dropped off in Hillsborough County. They said he is Lewis Irving Harris, 31, who lives in the apartment on Verona Avenue.

Deputies arrested Harris on felony charges of kidnapping with ransom and a felon possessing a firearm.

Clearwater police found a Ruger 9mm semi-automatic handgun that, Proffitt said, Harris had during the kidnapping.

He remained in the Pinellas County jail Friday. His bail was set at $120,000.

This case remains under investigation as police search for the second suspect.

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St. Petersburg police looking for suspect in reported kidnapping, severe stabbing 04/02/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 2, 2010 2:33pm]

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