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Van driver slain in St. Petersburg was sex offender

ST. PETERSBURG — Police are investigating the slaying of a man who was shot Thursday night while driving his van in the Cromwell Heights neighborhood.

Police say 40-year-old Carmen Tungate of 2500 54th Ave. N, Lot 283, was driving his white work van about 8 p.m. in the 2400 block of Highland Street S, when a bullet hit him in the upper torso.

Tungate lost control of the van and crashed into a parked vehicle. Police found Tungate slumped over in his seat.

An ambulance took him to Bayfront Medical Center, and he died just after midnight Thursday.

No suspects have been identified.

Tungate, a registered sex offender, had a lengthy criminal record and made headlines in Manatee County when he strangled his former boss, Ballapuram Umakanthan, at a Brandenton motel in 1988. Tungate was 19 at the time.

He was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison in 1989, but was released in 1999 because of a state Supreme Court ruling that granted early release to a small group of offenders.

Dave Bristow, spokesman for the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, said he remembers Tungate well. At the time of Tungate's release, then-Sheriff Charlie Wells opposed the court's decision and called it "legal escape," according to newspaper accounts.

Once out, Tungate picked up a string of arrests for sexual offenses.

"That wasn't a real shock to us," Bristow said.

Despite his past, Tungate was turning his life around, said his mother, Anna Hardin.

"He wasn't a saint, but he was a good person," Hardin said from her Bradenton home. "There's always two sides to a coin."

When Tungate got out of prison, Hardin said, he got a job working for an air-conditioning company.

He lived in Palace Mobile Home Park, a community that has become a magnet for many of the county's registered sex offenders.

Hardin said Turngate decided to go back to school and was taking online college courses. He started attending Calvary Chapel of St. Petersburg.

"He was a good person with a problem," Hardin said. "He was trying to better himself."

Hardin said she last saw her son early Thursday evening. He left her home, telling a nephew he was going to the library.

"Whoever did it, I'm not looking for revenge," his mother said. "We all pay for our sins."

Van driver slain in St. Petersburg was sex offender 01/23/09 [Last modified: Friday, January 23, 2009 9:58pm]

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