Tarpon Springs police find two men wanted in Massachusetts killing

TARPON SPRINGS — Two men wanted in the fatal stabbing of an 84-year-old man in Massachusetts were arrested here two weeks ago after a Tarpon Springs police sergeant found the stolen vehicle they were driving in a rather conspicuous place.

"It wasn't too hard to find because it was right across the street from the Police Department," said Tarpon Springs police Capt. Barb Templeton.

The details were released Friday in a search warrant filed in Pinellas County.

The case started Sept. 6 in Hardwick, Mass., when police and firefighters responded to a raging blaze at the home of Joseph Cernauskas.

Emergency responders found blood at the home, but no Cernauskas, launching a missing person case that would soon turn into a homicide investigation.

Investigators in Massachusetts got a break in the case when Cernauskas' sister, Helen Hart, called authorities on Sept. 13 to report that her 21-year-old grandson, Jonathan David Hart, had taken her 2006 Dodge Stratus a couple of days after the murder and had not returned.

Investigators learned the Dodge had been pulled over in Georgia on Sept. 11 and the driver, 19-year-old Jason Fremont Lopez, was cited for speeding. Lopez is Jonathan Hart's best friend, detectives learned. They traced Hart's cell phone and found it had been used in the Tampa area, according to the search warrant.

On Sept. 15, Tarpon Springs police were contacted by Pasco County sheriff's deputies who said they believed the car was in Tarpon Springs.

Tarpon police Sgt. Michael Trill saw the car at an apartment complex at 715 E Lime St., which is just across the street from the north side of the Police Department.

Trill, along with other Tarpon Springs' officers and deputies from the Pasco Sheriff's Office, watched the Dodge as Hart and three teenage girls got into the car. They rushed the car before it could pull away and took Hart into custody.

One of the teenagers told investigators she knew Hart when she lived in Massachusetts. The girl said Hart called her on Sept. 11 and told her he and Lopez had killed Cernauskas, who is Hart's great uncle, and were headed to Florida, authorities said.

Lopez was later found and arrested in Hillsborough County.

A spokesman for the Worcester County (Mass.) District Attorney's Office declined Friday to discuss a motive for the slaying, but investigators said in the warrant that the pair admitted to stabbing Cernauskas as he lay in his bed asleep. After he was killed, the two loaded Cernauskas' body into his minivan, drove it to a remote area and dumped his body before returning to the man's home to set it on fire, authorities said.

Cernauskas's body was found Sept. 20.

Tarpon Springs police and the Massachusetts State Police got a warrant to search the Dodge and found a knife, several rounds of ammunition, a hand saw, a cane and various other items, the document states.

Hart and Lopez have been charged with murder, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon on a person over age 60, home invasion and arson.

On Friday afternoon, Hart remained without bail in the Pinellas County Jail and Lopez was being held without bail in the Hillsborough County Jail.

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

Tarpon Springs police find two men wanted in Massachusetts killing 09/30/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 30, 2011 8:46pm]

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