NEW TAMPA — Yushi Shimada answered his apartment door about 1:30 a.m. last Saturday to find a man asking to use his phone because his car had broken down.
When the man stepped into his apartment, a masked gunman followed. As they rifled through Shimada's wallet, he grabbed their gun and a fight ensued, Hillsborough sheriff's officials said. Shimada fired the gun; it jammed. The men beat the 23-year-old Shimada with a frying pan and ran, leaving him bleeding and their gun on the floor.
The crime was among a string of violent home invasions this month that struck New Tampa, a suburb where people leave their car doors unlocked and then are shocked to find items missing the next day.
In most of the cases, visitors came to doors saying they were fleeing an abusive boyfriend, or had a broken-down car and needed a phone. They would return moments later with armed men who pistol-whipped victims while they ransacked the home, Tampa police Capt. John Newman said at a news conference Friday.
One victim feigned unconsciousness in a pool of his own blood, Newman said.
"These bad guys preyed on the benevolence and good nature of their victims," Newman said.
Authorities have arrested Marlin B. Colbert, 19; Walter Pinckney, 18; and Victoria Williams, 24, all of Tampa, on charges that included armed robbery and aggravated battery.
They are searching for a fourth suspect, a female nicknamed "Peaches" who is described as in her mid-20s, 5 feet, 4 inches tall and weighing 140 pounds.
According to police, the crimes began about 10:30 p.m. June 8 at the Grand Pavilion Apartments when a woman leaving the complex's mailboxes was struck in the back of the head. After she fell to the ground, the robber took her purse and ran.
Four days later, a man at the Oxford Apartments allowed two women to use his cell phone shortly after midnight. They returned with two others and pistol-whipped the tenant and stole items from his apartment.
"It's unusual to have violent crimes in New Tampa," said Tampa police Sgt. Mary O'Connor. "(The resident) was trying to be a kind, compassionate guy, then bam! Here they come. It was very random and very odd."
Later that night, at an apartment on Enclave Village Drive, the suspects struck a tenant in the face with a revolver and stole electronics.
On June 13, a resident living at apartments on Dulcinea Boulevard was victimized. The same day, Tampa police placed a reverse 911 call to more than 2,500 phone lines south of Interstate 75 off of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard stressing basic safety tips, Newman said.
The assailants struck two more times before they were arrested — one was in the process of burglarizing a home, police said.
The break in the case came, police said, because Pinckney had met one of the robbery victims several months before at an Ybor City club. On the night he robbed her, he left a note on a car he thought was hers asking her to call "Walt," police said. The victim mentioned the note when police came to investigate the robbery, and they began surveillance on Pinckney.
Police could not explain why Pinckney would leave a note for a woman he was about to rob.
Detectives arrested Pinckney on Monday as he and two others were apparently in the process of burglarizing a home on Riverhills Drive. He was accompanied by Troy Eubanks, 20, and Michael Pierre, 21, both of Tampa. The men were charged with armed burglary and grand theft. Police said Pinckney led them to the other suspects.
Adrian Jewell, a close family friend of Shimada's, said Shimada came from Japan about a year ago. A chef at a Japanese restaurant, he speaks limited English and was just trying to help when they came to his door. Jewell had to stay with Shimada until the arrests were made. Shimada, who needed stitches in his head, handed Jewell a golf club before bed and won't answer the door anymore.
"He's terrified of the door," Jewell said. "He wants to move."
Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813)269-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org