TARPON SPRINGS — Evelyn Desiree Santiago knew Marco Antonio Parilla Jr. was on probation, that he was once in prison.
But she didn't know he had a gun until Parilla walked toward her with his head down in the parking lot of a Tarpon Springs apartment complex early Sunday morning. When he looked up, Santiago turned around to see what Parilla was staring at and saw Officer Charles Kondek holding a gun....
TARPON SPRINGS — Christmas was Officer Charles Kondek's favorite time of year. Now, his wife and six children must face the first holiday without him.
Pasco County Clerk Paula O'Neil read the family's first public statement Monday since Kondek was shot dead while on duty early Sunday.
"Charlie was a loving husband and devoted father," the statement reads. "As a law enforcement officer, he served with compassion and worked hard to keep our community safe. We are shocked and devastated by this tragedy that has taken Charlie away from us."...
TARPON SPRINGS — By day, "Charlie K" was a good dad. By night, he was known as a good cop.
Tarpon Springs police Officer Charles Kondek worked the midnight shift so that he could watch his 15-year-old daughter Aleena's soccer practices and travel around with her wherever she played.
Kondek, 45, was a family man, and she was his youngest child. She had just gotten her learner's permit and her father was teaching her how to drive....
TARPON SPRINGS — It was a routine call, a car stereo blaring at 2 a.m. Sunday.
Officer Charles Kondek, a veteran of the overnight shift, was the first to respond to the small apartment building in Tarpon Springs.
Moments later, he lay dying in the parking lot, shot in the chest and run over as the suspect sped away.
The shooter, Marco Antonio Parilla Jr., was caught after a short car chase, investigators said. The 23-year-old with an extensive criminal record including 30 felony charges was wanted for violating probation and told investigators he didn't want to go back to prison. He faces a first-degree murder charge....
In 2004 during the holidays, several other families lost loved ones in hit-and-run crashes that remain unsolved.
Among the dead is Victoria D'Addio, a 5-year-old Connecticut girl who was crossing Gulf Boulevard in St. Pete Beach with her mother when a white mid-sized sedan fatally struck her on Nov. 23, just two days before Thanksgiving.
"I need somebody to come forward so I can feel closure on my end because somebody out there killed my little girl," her mother, Anne D'Addio, told the St. Petersburg Times at the time. "I need to know that person has been found. I want my baby back."...
LARGO — Every Christmas Eve, Kim Palfy reads her only daughter's favorite book, The Polar Express, and eats the sugar cookies she loved to bake.
She takes out Jacquelyn Palfy's presents, but her daughter has never opened her gifts. They were wrapped 10 years ago, just days before she died at age 20 on Dec. 19, 2004, during a road rage crash on Missouri Avenue.
The driver sped away and police never found him, but Jacquelyn's mother finds comfort in remembering her daughter's life: the little girl who took her rag doll to slumber parties, the teenager who played on a boys soccer team, the young woman who longed to be a wife and a mom....
LARGO — Helping people was Rochelle Tatrai's job. The CEO of a nonprofit with 600 employees, she advocated for children in broken families, the mentally handicapped, and most recently unaccompanied youngsters who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border.
But Tatrai also needed help. She was shot dead Thursday by the same man who police said beat her with a metal baseball bat and threatened to kill her 12 years ago....
LARGO — A 16-year-old girl arrived home Thursday afternoon to find the bodies of her parents, who died in what police are calling a murder-suicide.
About 2:30 p.m., she arrived at 13156 Thoroughbred Loop and discovered Rochelle Tatrai and Sean Ray, both 46, dead of apparent gunshot wounds, Largo police said. She went outside and flagged down a utility worker, who called 911.
Tatrai was the president and CEO of Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services, recently in the news as it sought to expand a Pasco County shelter to accommodate young immigrant boys fleeing violence in South and Central America....
Deputies throughout Florida handed out more than 15,000 warnings and 7,000 tickets during a four-week operation focusing on pedestrian safety.
Organized by the Florida Sheriffs Association, operation Safe Steps involved 18 sheriff's offices and aimed at reducing the uptick in pedestrian-related crashes throughout the state.
From 2011 to 2013, nearly 1,500 died and 18,000 others were injured in 25,900 pedestrian crashes, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said during a news conference Monday....
ST. PETERSBURG — Christine Mayers dreamed of her dead son the night before a teen girl involved in his slaying faced her prison sentence.
In court Friday, she described how Jeremy Mayers, glowing and dressed in white, hugged her and told her everything would be okay.
Mayers, surrounded by family, watched as circuit judge Joseph Bulone ordered Brittany Detwiler, who previously pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, to serve 15 years in prison....
12/04/14 Human Interest
LARGO — Monica Fowler is a regular at Taylor Park, where she walks or takes photos of wildlife a few times a week. But Wednesday morning, Fowler spotted something hanging from a pipe near the 53-acre lake's seawall.
It was a white bulldog mix, its paws clinging to the pipe, the rest of its body submerged in murky water.
She saw a car heading her way and flagged it down.
"He could have just not even stopped when I was waving at him," said Fowler, a retired geologist. "He doesn't know who I am or what's going on."...
CLEARWATER — Steven Raynard Jones walked away from the apartment he shared with his wife as flames inside killed her two cats.
Hours later, Pinellas sheriff's deputies located Jones, 45, at the El Rio Motel off Fourth Street N in St. Petersburg. He denied setting fire to his home in the unincorporated Clearwater area, but Quincy was not fooled, police records show.
The 8-year-old Labrador mix with big floppy ears and bright brown eyes sniffed Jones' clothes and sat down, indicating he'd detected fuel....
CLEARWATER — Police are still searching for the driver of a dark-colored SUV that struck and killed a 22-year-old motorcyclist on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard last month.
Detectives have one witness and one video surveillance tape. They've checked with dealerships in Clearwater, and soon in Dunedin, for any SUVs coming in for crash repairs, said Sgt. Michael Walek, who oversees the traffic homicide investigators....
11/25/14 Public Safety
LARGO — Inadequate surge protection, faulty grounding and baby ospreys are to blame for an outage of Pinellas County's 911 system for 45 minutes this summer, according to a report released Tuesday.
The analysis, conducted by the county and released in draft form, also details the causes of other problems at the new 911 center, including reports of busy signals and a partial power loss earlier this month....
LARGO — During Sgt. Ron Wehr's first week on duty at the Pinellas County jail, an inmate provided this tip: Contraband was being smuggled in by a nylon cord.
Skeptical, Wehr scanned the outside of the jail one July morning in 2013. He glanced toward the flag pole near the public lobby and saw a thin line on the wall. Detectives yanked on the cord and a grocery bag containing marijuana, cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and lighters tumbled down....