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Tarpon Springs police arrest man in friend's killing

TARPON SPRINGS — The young man pointed the rifle at his friend and told him to kneel down.

Then, he unloaded multiple rounds execution-style, hitting Joseph Brignoli in the torso, head and back, police said.

Brignoli, 33, slumped against the garage of his pale yellow, three-story townhouse at 1197 Flying Fish Lane. Police found Brignoli, a local martial arts instructor, dead in his driveway in the usually peaceful, waterfront community just after 10:30 p.m. Sunday.

Early Tuesday morning, Tarpon Springs police arrested 20-year-old Christopher Joseph Kubiak on charges of first-degree murder and resisting an officer with violence. The rifle, which belonged to Brignoli, was found at the scene, said Tarpon Springs police spokesman Capt. Jeff Young.

Police said Kubiak, who goes by the nickname "Gizmo," was identified early in the investigation as a possible suspect. He was later linked to the crime through witnesses and physical evidence. Young wouldn't elaborate.

Kubiak's mother, Amy Kubiak, collapsed to the floor of her kitchen and wailed when a St. Petersburg Times reporter told her about the charges against her son Tuesday morning.

"No, no, no, noooooo," she cried. "Oh my Jesus. Lord come into my heart right now. Give me strength."

• • •

News of Brignoli's death sent shock waves throughout the martial arts community, according to one of his associates, Mark J. Speranza, who owns two schools in Long Island, N.Y.

"I'm getting texts from everybody around the industry," Speranza said. "Everybody's pretty stunned."

For a short while, Brignoli owned Pro-Star Mixed Martial Arts, a business that provided a licensed curriculum for teaching martial arts, state records show. He also worked as a consultant for a martial arts trade group, the National Association of Professional Martial Artists, and for the Martial Arts Teachers' Association, Speranza said.

"He was a sweetheart," Speranza said. "If you ever called and had a question, he'd go out of the way to help you out."

Rob Colasanti, Brignoli's former boss at NAPMA, said Brignoli "had the gift of gab" and was good at providing business information to martial arts school owners. But ultimately, he had to let Brignoli go about six or seven years ago.

Colasanti said Brignoli offered numerous excuses for being late or missing work, including that he was involved in taping an episode of Judge Judy. Colasanti thinks that excuse may have been true.

But he doubted many of Brignoli's other tales. Among them, Brignoli told Colasanti that he was "an undercover agent and somebody involved with espionage and helping the government to take down narcotics dealers," Colasanti said.

Colasanti, who no longer works for NAPMA, said he was "deeply saddened" that a former employee had such a horrible demise.

Brignoli managed martial arts schools in New Jersey, and for several years the New Jersey native also taught martial arts to children in the Palm Beach area, reports the Palm Beach Post.

In 2000, he told the Post that teaching children was his passion: "There's nothing more rewarding than working with a child, and watching them progress physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally in an everyday part of their lives."

• • •

Detectives were still working Tuesday afternoon to determine what might have led to the shooting. Kubiak and Brignoli "got into some kind of argument," said Young, the police spokesman. "The detectives are still trying to put all of the pieces together."

But Kubiak's mother, Amy Kubiak, 45, said her son has a history of violent behavior that is so extensive he is not allowed to come to her family's Tarpon Springs home. Amy Kubiak said she and her husband have had two restraining orders against Christopher because of repeated violent outbursts. Late last year, Christopher pushed his father into a double-paned glass door, Amy Kubiak said.

In a petition for the last order, filed in Pinellas County in December, Kubiak's father, Ronald Kubiak, said Christopher "has assaulted me on numerous occasions" and that he feared his violence was "escalating." Ronald Kubiak noted in the petition that his son had recently been hospitalized under the Baker Act, which allows police to hold for mental evaluation those who appear likely to harm themselves or others.

Amy Kubiak said Brignoli had talked to her about trying to help straighten out her son. Christopher Kubiak's first arrest came the summer he turned 13 years old, when he helped vandalize a school in California, Amy Kubiak said. He has been in and out of juvenile detention facilities and jail ever since. He turned to drugs as a young teenager, she said.

Kubiak has been arrested several times in Pinellas County since 2007. He pleaded no contest in 2009 to violating one of the restraining orders taken out by his father. In 2010, he was convicted of disorderly conduct, carrying a concealed weapon and battery on a law enforcement officer.

The Kubiak family moved to Tarpon Springs in 2005.

"He's been nothing but trouble since he's been here," said Amy's father, 71-year-old Jerry Phillip Westermeyer, also of Tarpon Springs. "This does not surprise us, not one bit. It's almost the news we've been expecting."

Amy Kubiak said Christopher "didn't want help," and she long suspected a horrific ending for her son.

"It's either 6 feet under or life in prison" for Christopher, she said.

Times Staff Writer Danny Valentine contributed to this report. Lorri Helfand can be reached at (727) 445 4155. Rita Farlow can be reached or (727) 445-4157

Tarpon Springs police arrest man in friend's killing 02/08/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 8, 2011 8:04pm]
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