Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tampa tow truck driver also accused Marine reservist of rampage

TAMPA — Two years before police said he hit a Greek Orthodox priest over the head with a tire iron, Jasen Bruce had a run-in with another stranger, a tow truck driver who said the Marine left him hurting for months.

Steven Ray Allen, now 59, remembers a time when he towed cars outside the Calta's Fitness Club on Gandy Boulevard. And he remembers the incident that made him stop.

It was Halloween afternoon, 2007. Someone had parked a silver Jaguar in a tow-away zone. As Allen backed his tow truck bed up to the Jag, he says seven or eight large men came out of the gym and surrounded him.

"They puffed their chests out like they were He-Man," Allen said, "like they were trying to intimidate me."

Bruce came out, and they got into an argument.

"He was just flat mean, telling me that I wasn't taking his car, that he would beat me into the ground first," Allen said.

The Marine jumped over the tow truck and pushed him in the back with both hands, Allen told police. Bruce then got in his car, moved it, parked and then got out and pushed him again, this time in the chest, knocking him 7 to 10 feet.

Bruce is a muscular 6 feet 3 and 210 pounds.

"My back hurt for months," Allen said. "Here I am, an overweight 57-year-old man, and he has to come over and beat me up. That's a real proud thing to do."

Bruce pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor battery charge and adjudication was withheld. But that didn't stop his continued harassment, Allen said.

Allen said Bruce and others from the gym dared him to find tow-away zone signs that had disappeared. He said Bruce would yell "fat man" at him and say, "I'll just beat you up again and I'll pay another fine. I've got lots of money."

The tow truck driver tolerated it for about a month, then stopped working that lot.

Leanne Mortello, a manager with Calta's Fitness who witnessed the incident, said the Marine acted in self-defense.

In the police report, Bruce says the tow truck driver grabbed him by the shoulder to keep him from getting in the car. Mortello called the tow truck driver's demeanor "argumentative."

The tow truck driver has a 1991 arrest for aggravated battery. Adjudication was withheld in that case, state records show. He has several nonviolent arrests, but none in the past two decades.

Mortello said she saw Bruce regularly because he subleased a space in the gym to run Y-Age Clinic. On the clinic's Web page, Bruce touts the benefits of increasing one's testosterone and human growth hormone.

"These guys get what they call 'roid rage," Allen said. "He looked like he had taken one pill too many that day."

Wednesday, Allen learned of Bruce's run-in with the Greek Orthodox priest.

Police say 28-year-old Bruce was bent over the trunk of his car Monday, pulling out clothes, when the priest — who speaks little English — tapped him on his shoulder to ask for directions. He was lost.

Bruce, police say, whacked him over the head with a tire iron, chased him for three blocks and pinned him, all while telling a 911 operator that the bearded, robed man was an Arab terrorist, that he had tried to rob him and that he had grabbed his genitals and propositioned him for sex.

Police have charged Bruce with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. They are trying to determine whether to charge him with a hate crime.

Bruce's lawyer Jeff Brown held a news conference Tuesday, saying the Marine reservist was acting in self-defense — that the priest did, in fact, sexually attack him. The priest denies that accusation.

By Tuesday night, the story had reached Greece. Its nationwide television networks took the education angle, asking how the American Marine could possibly confuse a Greek Orthodox priest with an Arab terrorist.

And on Wednesday, church spokesman Jerry Theophilopoulos offered stronger words for Bruce. He called the attack "'roid rage" and said the Marine should go to prison. He said clerics are easy prey for sex allegations and that the defendant is taking advantage of that. He said the church is cooperating with the police and will meet with the State Attorney's Office.

As for the priest, 29-year-old Father Alexios Marakis told the spokesman he has forgiven the assailant, but that the accusations weigh heavily on his mind. Marakis spent the day tending to church duties.

Television cameras filmed as he swung an incense censer at a funeral, the stitches still visible on his head.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Alexandra Zayas can be reached at or (813) 226-3354.

Tampa tow truck driver also accused Marine reservist of rampage 11/11/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 11, 2009 9:41pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Study: Tampa Bay a top market for homebuyers on the move

    Real Estate

    The Tampa Bay area is among the top markets for homebuyers who are likely to move in the next few months, ATTOM Data Solutions says.

    The Tampa Bay area is among the top markets for homebuyers who are likely to move in the next few months, a survey found.
[Associated Press file photo]
  2. Tampa lawyer Fred Ridley to be new chairman of Augusta National, Masters' home (w/ video)


    AUGUSTA, Ga. — Fred Ridley first came to Augusta National to compete in the 1976 Masters as the U.S. Amateur champion, and he played the opening round in the traditional pairing with the defending champion, Jack Nicklaus.

  3. Rays send down Chase Whitley, Andrew Kittredge; add Chih-Wei Hu, activate Alex Cobb


    After having to cover more than five innings following a short start by Austin Pruitt, the Rays shuffled their bullpen following Wednesday's game, sending down RHPs Chase Whitley and Andrew Kittredge,

    The Kittredge move was expected, as he was summoned to add depth to the pen Wednesday in advance of RHP Alex …

  4. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred moves closer to wanting a decision on Rays stadium

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred called Wednesday for urgency from Tampa Bay area government leaders to prioritize and move quicker on plans for a new Rays stadium.

    MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred talks with reporters at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017.
  5. Six home runs doom Rays in loss to Blue Jays (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — A curve that didn't bounce was the difference Wednesday as the Rays lost 7-6 to the Blue Jays in front of 8,264, the smallest Tropicana field crowd since Sept. 5, 2006.

    Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria (11) greets center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) at the plate after his two run home run in the third inning of the game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017.