LUTZ — Early Monday, a neighbor watched as Brandon Machetto looked around outside his grandmother's home, appearing to make sure the coast was clear. Then Machetto began to drag something to his grandmother's minivan. The object was wrapped, but the neighbor saw feet dangling from the end and called authorities.
Hours later, Machetto, 18, was in custody, accused of killing his grandmother, Sylvia Rosalie Schmitt, 74. Her body was found in her gold Honda Odyssey, Pasco County authorities said, and there was blood, along with signs of a struggle, in her house in Paradise Lakes.
Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco said his office was consulting with prosecutors about what type of murder charge Machetto will face. He said Machetto had been accused of domestic violence against Schmitt in 2012, but she dropped the charge.
After the neighbor called authorities Monday, a deputy spotted Machetto driving on State Road 54 about 10 a.m. The deputy tried to pull him over, but he just kept driving, authorities said, eventually ending up back in Paradise Lakes, a clothing-optional condominium community and adjacent resort. Inside the community, another deputy spotted him and pulled him over.
Deputies described him as expressionless and stoic. He said nothing and has not talked with investigators, Nocco said.
Betty Byrne, who lives in the community, parked near the front gate when she saw the crime scene tape and the news trucks stretched down the street. She asked reporters what had happened and learned that her dear friend was dead.
"I can't anticipate anything like this happening to her," Byrne said. "She was pretty low key."
She described Schmitt as a calming and approachable woman who spoke well of everyone. But Byrne didn't remember Schmitt ever mentioning her grandson in conversation.
As Byrne spoke, the reality of her friend's death began to overwhelm her, and she retreated to her car.
"I know it's going to hit me bad when I get home," she said.
Rain came and went like the patrol cars at the scene. Curious neighbors parked their golf carts and milled in the streets between houses with curtainless windows.
Ronnie Hall said he instructed Machetto in Krav Maga (Israeli martial arts) for seven years.
He said that Machetto was attacked by a group of teens when he was 14 or 15 and that they hit him in the back of the head with a rock. Machetto was taken to a hospital, where he nearly died. After that, he was never the same, Hall said; his emotional maturity stayed at the level of a 13-year-old's.
Hall said Machetto was spastic and childlike. His domestic violence arrest stemmed from an argument with Schmitt over his not taking his medication. When he played volleyball at the nearby resort, he was silly and laid back. Hall said it looked odd to see someone over 6 feet tall acting so childish.
He said Machetto's mother, Sheryl, worked too much to take care of him, so he often stayed with Schmitt.
Machetto was arrested twice earlier this year, records show: once in March on a charge of obstructing police and resisting arrest without violence, and in May on a charge of retail theft. Sheriff's officials could not find reports detailing the arrests.
Despite that, Hall said, Machetto was timid in class.
"Even when he was training in our school, he was never an aggressive-type fighter," Hall said. "He was always a let-somebody-come-to-me type fighter."
Contact Alex Orlando at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.