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Two die in blaze at mobile home

Hillsborough County Fire Rescue workers inspect a burned mobile home at 12224 N Florida Ave. in Tampa. Authorities are not releasing the identity of two bodies found in the home.

KEN HELLE | Times

Hillsborough County Fire Rescue workers inspect a burned mobile home at 12224 N Florida Ave. in Tampa. Authorities are not releasing the identity of two bodies found in the home.

TAMPA — Paul was a rapist, and his friend Paul was a killer. State records made this clear. They had met in prison and now they were getting old.

The Pauls paid their societal debts and settled down together in the Hi Pines Manufactured Home Community, off Florida Avenue north of the city, in a white mobile home set about with orange and lemon trees.

The neighbors thought they were nice men. They may have known the truth, or even the whole truth, or maybe nothing. But the Pauls seemed to be done causing trouble.

"They were good respectable neighbors of mine," said Wende Del Rio, 63. It was Friday morning and the air smelled faintly of smoke.

"They treated us super," said her husband, Joe.

Both men were 67 years old.

Paul Price was the rapist. According to the Florida criminal history database, he was convicted of child sexual molestation in Sarasota in 1976. He was convicted of strong-arm rape with a weapon in Pinellas County in 1978. He pleaded no contest to aggravated assault in Tampa in 1999. By the end he was working on a streak of three years, seven months and five days without an arrest. He had cirrhosis of the liver, and he smoked, and he used an oxygen tank.

Paul Brinson was the killer. After a string of gambling arrests in Tampa in the '60s and '70s, he was convicted of second-degree murder in 1981. He was sentenced to 30 years, got out on parole, violated parole, and finished his prison sentence in 2004. He soon became the best customer of the Sit N' Bull, a bar on Nebraska Avenue.

The Sit N' Bull is dark and smoky, with a Crock Pot of boiled peanuts by the beer taps. It opens at 7 a.m. for breakfast. Brinson was there every day before it opened.

He drank draft Budweiser and loved Barry White. He played Jungle Boogie on the jukebox again and again. But he didn't always come to drink. Often he just sat outside for hours, watching the cars go by.

"How much is my tab, baby?" he used to ask Tara Jennings, a bartender with long dark hair and a spider tattooed on her left shoulder.

"Five dollars," Jennings would say.

"There ain't that much money in the world," Brinson would say. "Do you want me to rob a bank?"

Early Friday morning, the bar owner saw something on the TV news about a fire at Hi Pines. She got to the Sit N' Bull and Brinson was not there, and then she knew.

About 2 a.m. Friday, the neighbors heard something like dynamite. They saw a white light and a cloud of black smoke. Price's oxygen tank had exploded.

Authorities said they weren't sure what caused the fire, and they didn't release the names of the dead.

They pulled two bodies from the wreckage. The neighbors all figured it was the Pauls.

A friend named Margarita came by about noon, in the unmerciful sun, to see what had happened. She would not give her last name. She said she hoped they didn't suffer, and she figured they were in heaven, or something.

The Pauls had a younger woman who lived with them and looked after them. Melinda Abernathy was her name. She was playing dominoes at another friend's house Thursday night when she decided to sleep over. That decision may have saved her life.

Abernathy also came by about noon. She looked through the windows and saw everything painted black. A muffled sob came out.

"Jesus," she said, almost to herself.

Times researcher John Martin and staff writer Kim Wilmath contributed to this report. Thomas Lake can be reached at tlake@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3416.

Two die in blaze at mobile home 08/29/08 [Last modified: Friday, August 29, 2008 10:59pm]
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