Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Death of young man found in bay a puzzle

ST. PETERSBURG — Bartender Russell Sutherland slid the mason jar across the lighted bar.

It was a typical Thursday night at Georgie's Alibi, with $2 Long Island iced teas, dance music and a lively crowd on the patio.

But for Sutherland, things were off. One face was missing.

Jason Downey, 31, the regular who made Sutherland his bartender of choice, wouldn't be coming this time. Downey's body was found in Tampa Bay on Sunday, two days after he was last seen here — at this bar, in this place.

"He was standing right here a week ago," Sutherland said on the patio, his 33-year-old eyes showing his disbelief. "He gave me a wink and he waved. … I'm puzzled. I'm totally puzzled."

St. Petersburg police seem to be puzzled as well.

When a fisherman discovered Downey near the Fourth Street approach to the Howard Frankland Bridge, he was fully clothed, wore jewelry and had his wallet.

Police spokesman Bill Proffitt said there was no sign of trauma to the body. It could be weeks before investigators get toxicology results testing for drugs.

Except for one nagging detail, Downey's death might be chalked up to a simple drowning.

His sport utility vehicle is gone.

His 1998 green Toyota RAV4 hasn't been seen since it was parked in the darkened lot across the street from Georgie's Alibi, 3100 Third Ave. N in St. Petersburg.

Reginald Johnson, 48, was one of four people working security Sept. 19 when he last saw Downey walking toward the parking lot alone near 2 a.m.

Working security there for five years, Johnson said he'd come to know Downey as a friendly guy who didn't cause problems. On the night he disappeared, Downey didn't seem intoxicated.

One minute, he was talking with friends. The next, he was alone. And then he was gone, Johnson said, noting, "It's just strange."

A week later, the mystery didn't noticeably dampen Alibi's usual Thursday night scene.

Inside the packed club, men and women twirled and bounced before giant video screens. Bartenders in black golf shirts embroidered with little martini glasses tipped liquor bottles four at a time to mix the popular drink special.

Over on the patio, Pete Kargiannis unwound with two friends over a coffee martini.

He didn't know Downey by name, but shown his picture, Kargiannis gazed silently, then lifted his turquoise ringed fingers to wipe his eyes.

"I know him," he said. "He was just always on the go — he always had his goals."

Immediately, Kargiannis and his friends started speculating about the possibilities. Was he targeted because he's gay and was at a gay bar? Did he give a ride to someone who knows what happened? Did someone slip something into his drink? Kargiannis said he always watches his own glass, just in case.

David Landreth, 31, decided not to go back to the bar that night. One of Downey's good friends, he knew the questions would be flying. Landreth and Downey regularly met here on Thursdays to catch up and party. If the vibe was right, they'd go from Alibi to Grand Central downtown to perform their standard karaoke songs.

That evening was no different — except it was a tame night, no karaoke. Landreth said he left around midnight and hugged his friend goodbye. Just before 2 a.m., Downey, a veterinary technician, told his roommate, Tony Ginski, 42, he'd be heading home to Tampa. He never showed.

Landreth said he wasn't ready to go back to the club a week later. "If I went down there, it would be specifically to find answers — not to party and drink," he said.

He notices every Toyota RAV4 that passes. He has gone to the place police say they found the body and marveled at how shallow the water is there.

It is off the predictable path Downey would have taken to get to his Tampa home.

Downey's mother, Kim Truman, a 51-year-old nurse from Palm Harbor, has stood at the water's edge, too. On Thursday she walked across the Howard Frankland Bridge, peering into the water for clues.

Detectives have searched the water enough that Proffitt said they are "sure there is no car offshore."

But Truman said police told her they scanned the water by helicopter and planned to do it again soon.

Downey's funeral is planned for today at 3 p.m. at Crystal Beach Community Church, 625 Crystal Beach Ave. in Crystal Beach.

Anyone with information about Downey's case was asked to call police at (727) 893-7780.

Death of young man found in bay a puzzle 09/26/08 [Last modified: Friday, September 26, 2008 11:35pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Joe Maddon: What my time in Tampa Bay meant — and still means — to me

    The Heater

    Editor's note: The Rays next week in Chicago will meet up for the first time with former manager Joe Maddon, who is in his third year leading the Cubs after nine with the Rays. In advance of the Tuesday-Wednesday series, we asked Maddon to share his thoughts in a column on what his time in Tampa Bay meant to …

    Joe Maddon waits to greet B.J. Upton after Upton's home run in Game 2 of the ALCS in 2008 at Tropicana Field. [Times files (2008)]
  2. First WannaCry, now cyberattack Petya spreads from Russia to Britain


    Computer systems from Russia to Britain were victims of an international cyberattack Tuesday in a hack that bore similarities to a recent one that crippled tens of thousands of machines worldwide.

    A computer screen cyberattack warning notice reportedly holding computer files to ransom, as part of a massive international cyberattack, at an office in Kiev, Ukraine, on Tuesday.  A new and highly virulent outbreak of malicious data-scrambling software appears to be causing mass disruption across Europe.
[Oleg Reshetnyak via AP]
  3. Pinellas sheriff's corporal had racist, sexist, pornographic content on his cell phone

    Public Safety

    LARGO — A Pinellas County sheriff's corporal resigned recently after an investigation into an alleged extramarital affair revealed a trove of racist, sexist and pornographic images on his personal cell phone.

    Shawn Pappas, 46, resigned as a training division corporal from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office after an investigation revealed a trove of offensive images and videos on his phone. This photo was taken as a screenshot from one of the videos released by the Sheriff's Office that Pappas filmed while on duty. [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
  4. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine reflects on the news from the Congressional Budget Office analysis that could imperil GOP leaders' hopes of pushing their health care the plan through the chamber this week, Tuesday, on Capitol Hill in Washington. [AP photo]
  5. Review: Dan Auerbach, Benjamin Booker plumb the past for inspiration on new albums

    Music & Concerts

    It didn't take Benjamin Booker long to get lumped in with the greats. The Tampa-raised singer-songwriter's 2014 self-titled blues-punk debut brought widespread acclaim, not to mention an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman, a tour with Jack White and sessions with Mavis Staples.

    The cover of Benjamin Booker's new album "Witness." Credit: ATO Records