ST. PETERSBURG — A 59-year-old man on his newspaper delivery route died Wednesday morning after struggling with another man outside St. Anthony's Hospital, police said.
The man's death is being investigated as a possible homicide.
St. Petersburg police officers found Teddy Huff, 59, unconscious in the street when they arrived at 1201 Fifth Ave. N just before 3 a.m. He was moved into the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Huff was an independent contractor delivering copies of tbt*, a free daily tabloid published by the Tampa Bay Times.
According to witnesses, Huff's van pulled in front of bicyclist Kevin D. Parkhurst, 24, and the two began to argue. Parkhurst told police the van had cut him off.
Things escalated when Huff pulled a wooden ax handle out of the back of his van and threatened Parkhurst with it, police said. Parkhurst lunged for the weapon and the two struggled, officials said.
During the fight, Parkhurst punched Huff in the face, police said.
Parkhurst told the deliveryman he was going to call police, and Huff put the ax handle back in the van, police said.
At some point during the confrontation, Huff called one of his colleagues, imploring him to call 911.
"It was 9 seconds — I heard him breathing heavy and say, 'I need police,' and then the phone disconnected," said Tampa Bay Times contractor Steve Sullivan. "I had no idea where he was."
Huff seemed alert for "a minute or so" after he was punched before stumbling backward, hitting his head on the pavement and becoming unconscious, said police spokesman Mike Puetz.
According to police, Huff had injuries consistent with a fall to the pavement, but also may have had pre-existing medical conditions that could have led to or contributed to his death. The Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office is investigating the cause of death.
"It's never the case that a punch by itself will kill someone like that, but a punch will usually coincide with a person falling and striking their head," Puetz said. "That's blunt force trauma. That can lead to death."
Police questioned Parkhurst after the incident but let him go Wednesday afternoon.
Both men have arrest records. Huff was charged with domestic battery and kidnapping, while Parkhurst was accused of marijuana possession, according to state records.
But Huff had been a crime victim, too.
A few years ago, Huff was carjacked while on his delivery route. He tried to fight back, but lost.
His newspapers, his car and everything inside were taken.
He wasn't the same after, friends said, realizing the danger of working nights roving the city's streets.
"It's dangerous out there," said fellow independent contractor and friend Jolanta Kielbratowski said. "He told me, 'Don't get comfortable with this place.' He knew it could happen again."
That's why he began carrying a wooden ax handle in the back of his van, she said.
"He wanted to feel safe," Kielbratowski said.
Huff was described as a simple man who loved his job and his dogs.
Woody, a collie, was with Huff at the time of his death. The dog has since been taken in by Kielbratowski, who said Huff made her promise to take care of Woody if anything ever happened to him.
"Poor thing," she said between sobs Wednesday. "He knows something's wrong. He was with that man every hour of the day. Now he's gone."
Huff is survived by three sisters and three children in New Jersey. Earlier this month he made plans to visit family, said sister Marijane Rios, 64.
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Marissa Lang can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8804.