ST. PETERSBURG — Lee Anderson sat up in her wheelchair and fixed her eyes on the television.
"Breaking News" flashed across the screen. Anderson knew what would come next, but she still wanted to hear it.
A reporter announced that a 24-year-old woman named Alexandra Gardner had fallen to her death from the third floor of a condominium complex in downtown St. Petersburg early Saturday. Investigators, the reporter explained, said she had tried to climb outside into a friend's locked condo, but didn't make it. They called the death "suspicious."
Anderson picked at her fingernails. The 84-year-old was dressed in blue jeans, a Tampa Bay Rays T-shirt and slippers. Her left leg, affected by a stroke, sat still on the foot rest. Her dog, Toby, lay on the floor next to her.
Anderson shook her head. "My only granddaughter," she said, drawing a cigarette from a pack of 305s.
Gardner and her boyfriend, family members said, had intended to stay the night with a friend who lives at the Madison at 100 Fourth Ave. S. The friend wasn't home, so Gardner tried to climb into the unit from the outside, Anderson was told by her granddaughter's friends.
She fell from a "corridor balcony," authorities said, but there appears to be only a window and small outside railing where neighbors believe Gardner fell.
A friend who was with Gardner tried to save her but lost his grip, police said. The department did not identify the friend Saturday, and said other details won't be released until the investigation and toxicology tests are finished.
Gardner was adventurous, her grandmother said, but this seemed so out of character.
She was born in St. Petersburg but raised in Connecticut. She moved back to Florida after high school and attended community college for one semester.
Animals, mostly dogs and cats, were Gardner's real passion, and they had been since childhood. Her Boston terrier, Hooch, was like her child. She dreamed about being a veterinarian someday.
A few years ago, she moved to Colorado and took up white-water rafting. Then, in 2011, Anderson had a stroke and her granddaughter came back.
Gardner took care of Anderson's St. Petersburg apartment until her grandmother could transition back into her home.
Gardner still stopped by every few days. She made Anderson breakfast and picked up her groceries. She took her grandmother on shopping trips and wheeled her around Publix and Walmart.
They often went to lunch together, usually at Steak n Shake.
Monday nights recently became a regular get-together. Gardner would bring her laundry, heat up a pair of frozen dinners, and the two would stretch out on living room couches while they watched their favorite TV show, Smash. "She was patient," Anderson said. "She was very generous with me."
Gardner, a petite brunette with a bright smile, liked people, Anderson said, and for years had worked as a server in area restaurants. She recently moved to downtown St. Petersburg.
Gardner's work and her social life seemed to mix in recent years, Anderson said. She worked late, partied late and slept late. She just liked to have a good time.
"She was a pistol," Anderson said. "Full of spunk."
John Woodrow Cox can be reached at [email protected].