Advertisement
  1. Archive

Three victims' deaths came without warning

Along the streets of Indian Rocks Park mobile home community, a bright orange X marked the side of mangled homes, signifying that occupants had survived a Saturday morning tornado.

At lot 95 there was a different notation on the underside of an overturned home leaning against the house next door. "Sig. 7," it read, the law enforcement code for a death in the house.

Through a square hole sawed into the bottom of this house, sheriff's deputies and the county medical examiner pulled the body of Mary Rickey. They found her still sitting in her living room chair.

She was one of three tornado victims identified Sunday.

The others were Sambecca Shotts, a Pinellas Park secretary who died in her garage as her teen-age son watched; and Theresa A. Moore, a part-time resident of Pinellas Park whose mobile home was thrown 50 yards and smashed against a house.

Their deaths came with virtually no warning and underscored the randomness of the storm. Many people in nearby homes survived without a scratch. Mary Rickey's Largo home ended up leaning against the undisturbed kitchen of another home where a framed portrait of a teddy bear still hung on the wall. It said, "Kiss the cook."

Usually cautious about storms

Mary Rickey lived in Indian Rocks Park with her husband, John Thomas Rickey, a retired speech professor.

They were well liked in the neighborhood. In this 55-and-older park, Rickey mowed his neighbors' lawns and took pictures of their grandchildren with his video camera. Mrs. Rickey spent most days at home because an arthritic disease was crippling her legs, neighbors said.

Despite her pain, "she was one of the most sweetest, wonderful persons you ever met," said Dorothy Laird, a friend who lives across the street. "She was almost bedridden; had a knee replacement so she could walk. . . . She got to where she could finally walk down the street, just a little bit."

The Rickeys were cautious about storms, another neighbor said, and would leave home at the first warning of dangerous weather conditions. But the tornado gave them no warning.

A half hour before it struck, Rickey had walked to the front door of his home and waved across the street to Laird, who waved back. Then they both went back inside to watch television.

Soon after Laird noticed the air was "real still and everything turned greenish-looking."

Suddenly, everything in her house was whirling about _ she remembers a lamp, "just standing straight up with the shade on it, going around and around" _ and she was thrown across her home, suffering a concussion. When two young men pulled her from the debris, she saw the Rickeys' home had flipped onto its side.

She stood in the street, yelling their names, but no one answered, she said.

Rickey was injured, but alive. He was taken to Morton Plant hospital in Clearwater and admitted for treatment of a concussion and a broken ankle. "He's in real good spirits," said Nancy Shaw, a next-door neighbor who visited him Sunday. "He sounded so good I didn't have the nerve to ask him about his wife."

His wife's body was removed from the house about three hours after the tornado.

It was the family's second tragedy in a year. The Rickeys' eldest daughter, Mary Carol, died of liver failure in November.

Her bereaved husband, James Parr, was at the Rickeys' home Sunday. He climbed inside through the hole sawed by rescue workers and helped unload the possessions of a lifetime: video tapes, photo albums, clothing, a waterlogged television set, the family's electric organ.

He was in Tampa when the tornado struck and had called to ask about his in-laws. "The line rang busy," he said, "so I assumed they were all right."

A home near the roller rink

Theresa Moore loved to roller skate.

She and her husband, Glenn, chose to spend winters at a mobile home in Park Royale Village in Pinellas Park because it was close to a roller rink. Any other year at this time, they would still be at their summer home in Toms River, N.J. But they came last week so they could watch the World Artistic Roller Skating Championships in Tampa.

Mrs. Moore, 63, had been roller skating since childhood. She still skated three times a week and was excited that this year's championships would be in Tampa.

She was inside the couple's doublewide mobile home Saturday when the tornado ripped it from the ground, lifted it at least 30 feet in the air and threw it against a house 50 yards away. Moore came home Saturday and found an empty space.

Hours later, his wife's body still lay amid the debris that was once their home. Glenn Moore sat on the front bumper of a fire truck and cried.

He had known her since their childhood in New Jersey. When they were young, they often skated together. They had three children and were planning to visit a newborn grandchild.

On Sunday, he came back to sift for his belongings and see where his wife had died. "She was a wonderful, active woman," he said.

He sorted through the debris but the only things he could salvage were two suitcases and her roller skates.

"He hasn't cried'

Sambecca Shotts was in her garage when the tornado struck. She quickly told her 14-year-old son Johnny and 10-year-old daughter Angela to get back in the house.

They dashed inside, but their mother did not escape in time.

"The boy saw the roof fall in on his mother," said Martha Gilson, Shotts' mother-in-law. "But he hasn't cried. It's going to hit him hard."

Shotts, her husband, Allen, and the children lived in a gray brick house in Beacon Run.

Allen Shotts was at work when the tornado struck. The children were not injured, relatives said. One of their dogs, a boxer named Moka, was killed in the garage. Another boxer, Lucky, was still missing Sunday.

The family spent Sunday morning boarding up the windows and removing debris. One brick wall of the garage had a 10-foot hole.

Shotts was a secretary with BCH Mechanical in Largo. She was also active in her church, the Wesleyan Church of Pinellas Park. She often volunteered to take handicapped people shopping and clean their homes.

"She was just like a flower," said her father-in-law Frank Gilson. "She helped everybody."

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Advertisement
Advertisement