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Shopping center is sued over killing

The husband of a woman beaten to death inside the couple's dry cleaning business in February sued the Coquina Key Plaza shopping center Tuesday for failing to provide security he says might have prevented the killing.

Peter Swanson, 44, claims the plaza's owner, manager and security company should have known a crime was foreseeable and should have hired and trained the appropriate employees to protect tenants and customers.

"I just assumed we had security," said Swanson, who owns several dry-cleaning and coin laundry businesses around St. Petersburg. "After it happened, I was more aware of what's going on and that no one was paying attention to us."

Elizabeth Swanson, 38, was beaten on the head Feb. 11 while filling in for an employee at Palms Cleaners and Laundromat. A few hundred dollars was taken from a cash drawer at the cleaners at 401 45th Ave. S. The crime remains unsolved.

The suit in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court was filed on behalf of Mrs. Swanson's husband of nearly 16 years and their 10-year-old son, Peyton.

The defendants are RAMDEV USA Development Corp. of Montreal, property owner; Cumberland Property Management Inc. of Hillsborough County, property manager; and Weiser Security Corp. of Pinellas County, which was hired to provide security.

Calls to the three companies were not returned Tuesday. But officials at Cumberland said the company no longer manages the property.

Palms Cleaners is toward the rear of the shopping center, on the side facing 45th Avenue S, around the corner from the larger and busier area facing Sixth Street S, where Scotty's and Family Dollar are located.

In addition to rent, the stores contribute money each month to pay for shared expenses, such as landscaping, trash removal and security, according to Henry Valenzuela, Swanson's attorney. Swanson's business pays $230 a month.

"They paid for this," Valenzuela said, "and then they got stiffed."

According to the lawsuit, the attack was "reasonably foreseeable" because of the history of crime in the area, former requests for security by tenants, previous use of security at the plaza, security audits and industry standards.