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Friends fear foul play in man found floating in Tampa Bay

TAMPA — Jason Downey was headed home.

That's what he told his roommate when they last spoke outside Georgie's Alibi bar in St. Petersburg early Friday morning.

The 31-year-old veterinary technician was alone, puffing a cigarette out on the patio bar just before 2 a.m. when he told Tony Ginski he'd catch up with him back at the house in Tampa.

"I thought maybe he'd be right along shortly," said Ginski, 42, who departed in his own car.

The usually reliable Downey never showed.

On Sunday, a fisherman discovered Downey's body floating in Tampa Bay near an approach to the Howard Frankland Bridge at Interstate 275 and Fourth Street N.

Police are still looking for his green 1998 Toyota Rav 4, which Downey was driving that night. St. Petersburg Police are calling it a suspicious death, but say an autopsy on Monday indicated no signs of trauma.

"I can't believe there would be anyone who would intentionally harm him, said David Landreth, 31, a long-time friend who also met Downey out on Thursday night.

Downey's friends, family and coworkers described him as upbeat, laid-back and funny. He served two years in the U.S. Army, worked as a flight attendant and, most recently, with animals at the Sierra Animal Hospital in Apollo Beach.

"He was a very happy person," boss Leslie Sierra said. "Clients loved him."

Until Downey's disappearance, Landreth and Ginski said there was nothing about that Thursday evening that seemed unusual.

Landreth and Downey regularly met at Alibi on Thursday nights, a tradition at the gay-friendly bar at 3100 Third Ave., known for its $3 Long Island iced tea special.

Downey seemed upbeat and the night was rather tame, Landreth said.

The friends talked. They danced. They acted silly. But it was a weeknight — Downey had work the next day.

"It was not a 'drunk-fest, crazy, do-whatever' kind of night," Landreth said Monday. "It was just a Thursday ... Honestly he wasn't drinking that much. He didn't even look like he had a good buzz."

Landreth said he hugged Downey on his way out of the bar around midnight. Landreth told him to call him later.

"And he always does this stupid thing where he's like, 'Alright, sista,' and I hugged him and I left," Landreth remembered, his voice cracking. "Right now is the worst part because you don't know what happened and its kind of hard to handle."

On Saturday morning, Downey's mother, Kim Truman of Palm Harbor, reported her son missing after his employer at Sierra Animal Hospital in Apollo Beach called. Downey hadn't shown up to work.

"It scared me to death," said Truman, 51, who last saw her son Wednesday.

Sierra, Downey's boss, had been calling him regularly since Friday, worried something was wrong. At 2 p.m. Saturday, Sierra said, the calls started going straight to voice mail without a ring. "We wish that we had some answers," she said Monday.

Police revealed little about their investigation Monday, but those who knew Downey feared he was the victim of foul play.

"I just don't understand it at all," Ginski said. "We were all having fun, there wasn't any drama. It definitely makes me nervous about going out."

Landreth has heard people speculating about what might have happened: "I hope to think it's not a gay issue," he said. "Everyone jumps to that from the start, but I'd like to think that's not the case."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.

Friends fear foul play in man found floating in Tampa Bay 09/22/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 25, 2008 6:25pm]
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