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Tampa: Details emerge in shootings, but questions remain

George Bello had extra ammunition in his truck on Saturday.

George Bello had extra ammunition in his truck on Saturday.

TAMPA — Two days after a gunman's rampage killed four people and wounded two sheriff's deputies, a few more details emerged Monday:

• Gunman George Bello gave no forewarning to relatives and packed extra ammunition in his truck before he drove to his estranged wife's home and killed her and two of her friends Saturday in North Tampa. "He planned ahead. He was clearly intent on doing something bad," said Hillsborough sheriff's spokesman J.D. Callaway.

• Records show that both wounded deputies are highly regarded veterans, and the deputy who finally killed Bello is an expert marksman.

• The three friends who were gunned down by Bello are being mourned by many longtime Tampa residents who knew them as far back as high school 25 years ago. In particular, a memorial service is planned for Wednesday morning for Chris Artigas, a popular Hillsborough County Fire Rescue captain.

Authorities say Bello, 54, also known as Jorge Orlando Bello Garcia, killed his estranged wife, Gina Marie Lamantia-Bello, 44, and two of her friends, Regina Coffaro, 44, and Artigas, 45, as they sat in a screened-in back porch in a neighborhood off Gunn Highway.

Questions remain about what led to the shootings. The Sheriff's Office is investigating.

The deputies

After the killings, Bello got into a chaotic gunfight with deputies a half-mile away on Henderson Road.

He shot Deputy Art Lence, 53, in the lower torso and Deputy Ray Wilson, 55, in the left forearm, and was struggling for Wilson's gun when Deputy Malachi McCoy shot Bello at close range in the head, the Sheriff's Office reported. By then, Bello had already been shot several times and not stopped.

Wilson, a 26-year veteran, is recuperating at home while Lence, a 17-year veteran, remained in fair condition Monday at St. Joseph's Hospital.

"Both of them are just stellar — laid-back and low-profile, just people doing their jobs," said Rod Reder, a former sheriff's captain who once supervised them.

Reder also praised McCoy, 29: "Malachi's a hero. There's some who would keep their distance and just keep shooting. But to do what he did, it takes guts."

Just last August, Lence was fired upon by an unstable man with a shotgun. As Lence drove to an incident in Citrus Park to provide backup for other officers, the man fired into his patrol car's windshield. Other deputies shot the man to death.

Lence has a reputation for being "aggressive and effective" in his work, while handling tough situations with unusual compassion and sensitivity. His file contains numerous commendations and letters from people who came into contact with him during a crisis and walked away thankful he was on their case.

A son thanked him for treating his father gingerly while he was having a bad reaction to medication. A woman wrote that a few days after flagging Lence down as her husband was having a heart attack, she got home to find a card from the deputy saying he was glad to hear her husband was doing better. Lence also was praised for helping talk a gasoline-doused man out of committing suicide.

Wilson is lauded in more than two decades of evaluations for being a hard worker and an excellent traffic homicide investigator who works well in high-stress situations. His personnel file contains four reprimands, two for failing to respond to a subpoena and two for not following standard procedures.

When McCoy joined the force in 2000, he wrote on his application that he has "high proficiency" in firearm use. Then-Sheriff Cal Henderson praised him for getting the "Top Gun" award for his handgun proficiency at the law enforcement academy.

The victims

The three friends who were killed had known one another for decades. All in their mid 40s, they used to run around West Tampa as teenagers, friends said.

"It's a tragic event for some people who were full of life. There was always a crowd around Chris, laughing. Regina was always a friend, someone who would listen to you," said Tampa native Jose Bello, 43, who is not related to George Bello.

Jose Bello attended Jefferson High with Artigas and Coffaro; Coffaro also went to Tampa Catholic High with Lamantia-Bello, and both attended a 25-year reunion last year, friends said.

A memorial service will be held for Artigas at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Van Dyke Methodist Church at 17030 Lakeshore Road in northwestern Hillsborough.

"He was very passionate about his work in whatever role he was fulfilling, be it captain, team leader or cook," said Hillsborough fire Chief Bill Nesmith. Deployed to Biloxi, Miss., as part of a special task force after Hurricane Katrina, Artigas served 459 meals from a camp stove in a parking lot in sweltering heat, the chief said.

Lamantia-Bello had two sons with her estranged husband, Coffaro had three daughters, and Artigas is survived by his wife and three children.

A question remains: Why were they all at the same house at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, and what brought about such a tragic ending? Grieving friends and relatives were unwilling to speculate.

"He knew them well and had known them for years and years. Whatever his personal life is, what's that got to do with this?" said George Sucarichi, president of the county firefighters union. "What does it matter? You've got three people murdered needlessly, meaninglessly."

Tampa: Details emerge in shootings, but questions remain 06/09/08 [Last modified: Thursday, June 12, 2008 3:15pm]
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