Saturday, January 20, 2018
Public safety

Suspect charged in Tarpon Springs police officer's slaying (w/video)

TARPON SPRINGS — It was a routine call, a car stereo blaring at 2 a.m. Sunday.

Officer Charles Kondek, a veteran of the overnight shift, was the first to respond to the small apartment building in Tarpon Springs.

Moments later, he lay dying in the parking lot, shot in the chest and run over as the suspect sped away.

The shooter, Marco Antonio Parilla Jr., was caught after a short car chase, investigators said. The 23-year-old with an extensive criminal record including 30 felony charges was wanted for violating probation and told investigators he didn't want to go back to prison. He faces a first-degree murder charge.

"He said his reason for shooting the officer was because he felt like a caged rat," said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. "He's going back to prison, which is where he belongs. He had absolutely no reason to take a police officer's life."

Kondek, who spent 17 years with the Police Department, leaves behind a wife and six children. He's the first Tarpon Springs officer shot to death in nearly 90 years.

"Charlie was just a great guy, a standout cop who came in every day and did his job," said Tarpon Springs police Chief Robert Kochen. "He served most of his career on the midnight shift, away from his family, allowing citizens to sleep peacefully in their beds because he faced the danger for them."

• • •

Parilla came to the apartment building looking for a snitch.

He thought someone had "dimed him out," Gualtieri said, informing police about drug activity that led to his probation violation charges.

He and a girlfriend drove in to Glen's Eureka Apartments, a small building at 199 Grand Blvd., shortly after 2 a.m. The buildings, where Parilla once lived, are just northeast of Spring Bayou, the site of Tarpon Springs' annual Epiphany celebration in early January.

Loud music blared from their white Hyundai Elantra. A resident called police to complain.

Parilla banged on the doors of his former neighbors. He was walking back to the Hyundai when he encountered Officer Kondek.

"He saw the officer," Gualtieri said. "He knew he was a convicted felon, knew he had a warrant out on him, knew he was going back to prison for a long time."

Parilla fired seven shots from his .40-caliber handgun, the sheriff said. One bullet struck the officer in the upper chest, above his bullet-resistant vest, and hit his spine.

Kondek fired two gunshots at Parilla before collapsing. Parilla pulled his friend, Evelyn Santiago, out of the car. He got into the car and backed over Kondek, according to authorities.

At that point, another resident of the apartment building, Jareem Roach, fired five rounds at the Hyundai, apparently believing that Parilla had been coming after him. Authorities were looking for Roach on Sunday.

Parilla sped off. Other officers arrived to find Kondek unconscious and barely breathing. One performed CPR until paramedics arrived.

Rachel Delk, one of the building's residents, heard Parilla banging on doors, then heard numerous gunshots. When she looked outside, paramedics were working on the officer.

"It was very scary … it's just kind of surreal," Delk said. "You always see that kind of stuff on TV, not in front of your face."

Kondek was rushed to Florida Hospital North Pinellas, where he died.

• • •

It was closing time at the Sponge Docks bars, and Tarpon Springs resident Tommy Mahinis was standing in the street with friends by Zorba's Greek Nightclub when he saw the white Hyundai barrelling down Athens Street.

Tires screeching, the car rammed into a power pole at Athens and Cross streets in the city's Sponge Docks tourist district. The car fishtailed and plowed into the back of a Ford truck belonging to Mahinis' friend.

Seconds later, the man inside opened the door and darted away. Mahinis said his instinct was to chase him.

"I had no idea what he had just done, but you hit my buddy's brand new truck and you're gonna get it," he said.

Mahinis followed the man up Athens and watched him turn left on Cross Street. Almost immediately, uniformed officers funneled in beside him. They found the man hiding beneath a wooden staircase and arrested him, Mahinis said.

"He kept lipping off," Mahinis said.

• • •

Parilla served a three-year sentence for charges including selling cocaine and marijuana, trafficking in stolen property and leaving the scene of a crash involving an injury before he was released in March, according to Florida corrections records.

He previously lived in Tampa and Gibsonton, and was arrested in Hillsborough County five times on numerous felony charges from 2009 to 2011 before landing prison, according to jail records.

As he was being led into the Pinellas County Jail, Parilla told reporters: "I apologize to the family. That was not my intention."

The sheriff scoffed at that.

"It's all a bunch of nonsense," Gualtieri said. "This guy knew what he was doing. He killed a cop, and he needs to be held accountable for that."

Kondek, who spent five years as a New York City police officer before moving to Florida, is the first Tarpon Springs officer shot and killed in the line of duty since 1926, said Joe Voskerichian, executive director of the Gold Shield Foundation, a charity that assists the families of officers killed on duty. The last time a Tarpon officer died while on duty was in an automobile accident in 1969, he said.

It is the first death of an officer in the line of duty in the Tampa Bay area in nearly four years. St. Petersburg police Officer David Crawford was the most recent officer shot to death in the Tampa Bay area when he was killed by a teenager he was trying to question in February 2011.

• • •

As a crime scene technician photographed the location of the shooting, Kondek's equipment lay scattered on the street, including a service weapon, bulletproof vest and police radio.

The sheriff and police chief met with Kondek's family.

"It's devastating," said Tarpon Spring police Chief Robert Kochen. "… Charlie was a great guy.

"We are really proud of him and he will truly be missed."

At the Tarpon Springs police station Sunday, residents dropped off bouquets of flowers to memorialize Kondek.

Rickie and Carolyn Barnes, who live near the crime scene, were jolted awake early Sunday by the piercing crack of gunshots, then the sound of tires squealing. Sirens blared and helicopters circled for nearly an hour.

The scene is familiar to them. They walk that street every day.

"It's just quiet and friendly. The neighbors are great," Carolyn said. "It's just hard to believe."

Times researcher John Martin and photographer Douglas R. Clifford contributed to this report. Contact staff writer Laura C. Morel at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.

     
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