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Suspect in Tampa General nurse's slaying dies in fiery crash in St. Petersburg

TAMPA — Near 2 p.m. Tuesday, lawyer Michael Laurato got back-to-back calls from a client in tremendous despair. Both times, the man pleaded: "Take care of my daughter." He didn't say why.

What Laurato didn't know was that Jason Paul Skinner, 30, apparently had just left a Seminole Heights home where his former girlfriend lay dead and was minutes from a fiery crash in St. Petersburg that would end his own life.

Skinner, a Tampa barber who quit his job just days ago, was wanted for questioning in the death of Larsen E. Hunt, a 25-year-old nurse who worked at Tampa General Hospital.

About 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, a woman called 911 screaming from a house at 5101 N Seminole Ave., across from Hillsborough High School.

When police arrived, it was too late. They found Hunt's body and immediately named Skinner a person of interest, calling him armed and dangerous. The manner of Hunt's death was not made public.

Hillsborough County court records show that Hunt, who has a 5-year-old son, obtained an injunction for protection against Skinner one month ago. He was ordered to stay 500 feet away from her house, her job and her son's school.

State records show Skinner has been arrested five times in Florida. In 2005, he was charged with aggravated assault with a firearm. He was sentenced to four years' probation, and ordered to take anger management classes and relinquish his concealed weapons permit.

John McKeown, a hairstylist who had known and worked with Skinner for several years, said he wasn't aware of any problems between Skinner and Hunt until he heard Tuesday's news.

"There was a lot of arguing heard during their phone conversations, but you never saw them fighting together when in person," McKeown, 38, said.

Hunt had always given Skinner every chance a girlfriend could give a boyfriend.

"You really could see the good in him, he just couldn't apply it all the time," McKeown said.

Skinner's life seemed a downward spiral. From problems with the law to losing his barber business, doors seemed to be closing, McKeown said.

"It was like a domino effect. His world was coming down, his world was colliding and he couldn't get a grip," McKeown said.

Skinner had two children, including the daughter he was raising, said Laurato, who represented him in a sinkhole claim and for a 2009 domestic violence case with another woman.

It's unclear where Skinner's daughter and Hunt's son spent Tuesday, but Skinner was alone when he crashed his vehicle.

Tampa detectives were at the scene of the Seminole Heights killing Tuesday when, about 3 p.m., St. Petersburg police reported that a driver fleeing an officer had plowed into a vacant house and died.

The officer had spotted a silver Chevrolet Camaro after it fishtailed at a high rate of speed onto Burlington Avenue N.

The officer activated his emergency lights in an attempt to pull Skinner over, but the driver sped up. The officer did not pursue the car, in keeping with the department's chase policy, police said.

About eight or nine blocks later, Skinner sped over railroad tracks, launching his vehicle into the air. He lost control of the car before smashing through a fence and into a home at 1648 Burlington Ave. N.

Neighbors said that the home, part of a four-unit complex of small buildings, had been empty for about two months. A "For Rent" sign hung outside.

Sherie Chick, 47, lives in the unit next door and was at home with her daughter and granddaughter. A beam came flying through her living room wall.

"It was just a big boom of crashing timber," Chick said.

Antonio Rivera, 47, who was in a nearby office building, said he heard the sound of a car accelerating, then hitting the pavement hard.

He stood up, looked outside and saw the Camaro sliding down the street.

"I saw the guy trying to fight to gain control, and I saw him go right into the house," Rivera said. "Right there into the house."

Both the car and house immediately caught fire, Rivera said.

He tried to help, he said, but the flames were too intense.

Jason Breazeale, 30, another neighbor, said he heard screaming. He ran back to his house and grabbed a fire extinguisher and was returning to the crash when something exploded.

Flames ripped into the air — higher than a nearby power pole. He felt the heat on his face.

The screams stopped.

Skinner was pronounced dead at the scene, officials said.

Back in Seminole Heights, where it all began Tuesday, neighbors grieved.

One of them, civic activist Pat Kemp, said she has known the Hunt family for perhaps a quarter of a century. She remembered when a pregnant Hunt would walk around the neighborhood.

She called her death unspeakably tragic.

Times staff writer Luis Perez contributed to this report.

Suspect in Tampa General nurse's slaying dies in fiery crash in St. Petersburg 10/26/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 27, 2010 11:54am]
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