Hillsborough sheriff's Deputy Augustine Balbontin parks his patrol car in front of his east Tampa home, so he is rarely surprised when someone appears at his door to report trouble in the neighborhood.
But Balbontin never expected the horrible scene described to him early Tuesday when a man ran up seeking the deputy's help.
A naked woman lay critically wounded in bushes in a vacant lot at N 12th Street and E 14th Avenue, Tampa police said. She had been shot several times.
Police identified the woman as Alicia Castellano, 25, of 1409 E 31st St. She was taken to Tampa General Hospital, where she remained in critical condition Tuesday night.
"When I saw her, I thought she was already dead," said Balbontin, an 18-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office. "I told her to stay calm and that help was on the way."
Authorities had few details on the crime Tuesday. Because Castellano was so seriously injured, detectives were unable to talk to her. They could not say why she was shot, where the shooting occurred or how she came to be in the Ybor City area. No arrests were made Tuesday.
"They're trying to save her life right now," said Tampa police spokesman Steve Cole. "She was in really bad condition."
Neighbors said the vacant lot is popular with prostitutes. Cars pull into the area at all hours of the night.
"They do a lot of tricking there because there are so many trees," said Carla Powell, 19, who lives across the street. "We try to tell police, but they keep coming back around."
According to jail records, Castellano has been arrested on prostitution charges more than a dozen times since 1989. In August, she was convicted of petty theft, grand theft auto and prostitution and sentenced to about 14 months in state prison. Jail officials could not say when she was released.
Reached Tuesday night, Castellano's mother, Margaret Canales, did not want to talk to a reporter. She said she had not talked to police and didn't know why anyone would want to hurt her daughter.
Balbontin said residents told him they heard gunfire about 6:30 a.m. coming from the lot beside Interstate 275. Three hours later, a man walking down the street heard Castellano moaning and discovered her face down in the grass.