ST. PETERSBURG — Kelsey Fakes lowered a party tray of cucumber sandwiches into her car in the parking garage of the Beacon condos Thursday morning. The 31-year-old with caramel-colored hair was headed to her job at a car dealership in Bradenton, where her office was having a holiday party.
"Get in the car!" she heard a man yell.
She looked up. He was charging toward her.
"Get in the car!" He had a gun. His face was covered by a patterned scarf, his head tucked in a hooded sweat shirt.
He's joking with me, she thought.
"Get in the car!"
"Get in the car!"
Shaking, she lowered herself into the driver's seat. The gunman, a short and skinny man who looked like he was in his late teens or early 20s, told her to move over so he could get behind the wheel.
Fakes began to sob. She held her hands up, stickup-style. He told her to put her hands down.
"Relax," the gunman said. "Everything's going to be fine."
He drove the silver 2008 Mazda 3 out of the garage in the wrong gear. Fakes heard the engine straining as he pressed harder on the gas pedal.
From her state of shock emerged a lucid thought: He's ruining my transmission.
The gunman drove her to a Publix parking lot a few blocks away. He asked if Fakes had any credit or debit cards.
"Yes, but there's hardly any money in it," she told him.
The gunman meandered the car through the lot for a minute or two before deciding to leave, exiting at the light on Third Street S and Third Avenue S. He drove toward Tropicana Field and made a left on Dr. Martin Luther King Street, heading south.
Fakes continued to cry but said nothing. Over and over, she recited a Catholic prayer in her head, a prayer she always recites when she's scared or lonely or nervous. Her mind wandered.
"I thought I was going to die," she said.
Fakes knows nothing about guns but noticed the one the man had was silver and seemed heavy. When he switched the gun from one hand to another, she could hear it. She continued to pray.
"Don't do anything stupid," the gunman told her.
The man suddenly turned down Seventh Avenue S off Dr. Martin Luther King Street, near Campbell Park and Campbell Park Elementary School. He stopped and told Fakes to get out.
"Can I have my purse?" she asked him.
"No," he said.
"Can I have my phone?"
"No, get out."
She got out of the car, still trembling and crying, and began to walk. Dressed in knee-high boots and a sweater, with tears and mascara on her cheeks, she moved toward downtown. Her husband, Nate, who left the couple's apartment in the morning shortly before she did, works as a part-time customer service representative at the St. Petersburg Times.
Fakes saw Bayfront Medical Center a few blocks away and headed in its direction. She walked past her church, St. Mary Our Lady of Grace. She was only minutes from her husband.
Inside the Times lobby on Fourth Street and First Avenue S, security guard Hank Goettelman saw a shaking, hysterical woman in the surveillance screen. She walked into the lobby and said she needed to see her husband.
"Are you okay?" Goettelman asked.
"No, I got robbed at gunpoint," she said, still sobbing. "He took my car …"
Goettelman called police while another security guard went upstairs to get her husband.
Moments later, after Fakes described all the details she could to police, she was still shaken, but relieved to be in a quiet lobby with security guards and her husband, who held her.
She talked about the gun. She rehashed the moment she realized what was happening to the time it all ended — 10 minutes of hell.
She remembered being upset that the man was driving her car in the wrong gear.
Dabbing tears with a tissue, she finally was able to laugh a little at the oddity of it.
• • •
St. Petersburg police found Fakes' car abandoned in the 800 block of 14th Street S on Thursday evening. A suspect had not been identified, but is described as a black man with a light complexion, 18 to 25 years of age, between 5 feet 5 and 5 feet 8, thin build, wearing a white hooded sweat shirt and light-colored bandana over his face. Anyone with information is asked to call the St. Petersburg Police Department at (727) 893-7780 or the tip line at (727) 892-5000 or Text-a-Tip at 727 420-8911.