CLEARWATER — A standoff ended quietly Tuesday morning when an armed suspect surrendered to deputies at a motel on U.S. 19.
The incident began around 1 a.m., Pinellas County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Cristen Rensel said, when Yellow Cab taxi driver Robert Stipins heard his cab's alarm sound at the Silk Oak Lodge mobile home park, 28488 U.S. 19 N.
Rensel said Stipins saw David Shaffer, 23, running away with a backpack stolen from the cab. Stipins called 911 to report the incident and told an operator there was a gun in the backpack, then gave chase.
Rensel said the chase ended at the nearby America's Best Value Inn, where Stipins caught up with Shaffer as he entered a motel room with his 22-year-old girlfriend, Kristi Orestas.
As Shaffer disappeared into the room, Rensel said, he told Stipins, "I have a gun, and I will kill you."
Deputies arrived a short time later, Rensel said, and contacted Shaffer by phone inside the motel room. Shaffer told deputies he had a gun and he'd shoot anyone who entered the room, she said.
Negotiators and a SWAT team were called to the scene, and they spoke with Shaffer and Orestas. At one point, Rensel said, Shaffer offered to surrender to deputies in return for seven oxycodone pills, but he eventually left the room and was taken into custody without injury around 8 a.m.
Investigators searched the room, Rensel said, and found a .45-caliber handgun concealed in an air vent.
Jorge Suarez, who worked overnight at the motel's front desk, said deputies stormed in at 1 a.m. and asked him for the name of the man in the room where Shaffer was holed up.
But no man was registered in that room, he said. Only Orestas, who had been a guest for about five days.
Suarez said he evacuated nearby guests to rooms close to the lobby and away from the standoff.
"We didn't know what was happening," he said. "Nothing like this has ever happened before. Not ever."
Kristen Barnett, who is staying several rooms from where the standoff occurred, said the SWAT team knocked on her door at 2 a.m. to let her know what was happening and then knocked again at 7 a.m., forcing her to evacuate.
Her two dogs barked all night as authorities swarmed the area, she said.
"When they knocked this morning, we had two minutes to get out," she said, adding that SWAT team officers were perched gun-ready on nearby rooftops. "Officers were like 'Get out, get out, get out.' "
Shaffer faces an armed burglary charge and is being held at the Pinellas County Jail. Authorities have not filed charges against Orestas.
An investigation remained under way Tuesday afternoon.
Brittany Davis can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.