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Trouble piles on grieving mother

Tara Lynn Ramsdell sat in court Monday morning, rocking and agitated as she waited for an update on the case against the man accused of killing her 16-year-old daughter, Joshan Ashbrook.

Then her cell phone buzzed. On the other end was a detective with a reminder:

Don't forget our agreement, the detective told Ramsdell.

A couple of hours later, the 39-year-old grieving mother turned herself in to the Pasco Sheriff's Office in New Port Richey.

"It was like a double whammy, right then and there," she said Tuesday afternoon.

Ramsdell's arrest on a felony grand theft charge is the latest blow to a family rocked by tragedy. She is accused of stealing rent payments from the In Town mobile home park on Massachusetts Avenue in New Port Richey, where she worked as the manager last year in exchange for free rent.

According to her arrest report, Ramsdell failed to deposit $6,527 in rent payments between Aug. 23 and Dec. 9. It also says she admitted to using crack cocaine during that time.

Tuesday, after she bonded out of jail with $250 from her daughter-in-law and her mom's car as collateral, Ramsdell said she doesn't remember how she got herself in this predicament. Much of the fall was a blur, she said.

Still reeling from the recent deaths of her father and infant grandson, Ramsdell suffered the loss of her 26-year-old stepson in November. Cory Ramsdell died after the lumber truck he was driving crashed in Spring Hill.

His death marked the second time Ramsdell had lost a child. On Aug. 1, 2002, her daughter's body was found in the brush off Shady Hills Road, her neck broken, her throat slashed.

Phillup Alan Partin, the man indicted for Joshan's murder, is set to go to trial July 10.

Ashbrook's parents sued the Sheriff's Office for wrongful death, claiming deputies failed to protect Joshan by not taking her into custody after her mother obtained a Marchman Act order for her daughter to receive substance abuse treatment.

Crushed by the mounting stress, Tara Ramsdell said, she turned to crack cocaine. In December, she attempted suicide.

"I tried to smoke myself to death," she said, sitting in her Hudson mobile home. "I started smoking the crack because I didn't want to feel the pain anymore."

She said she paid for the drugs by loaning her car to her dealer. She recalls taking the rent payments but doesn't know what happened to them afterward.

Ramsdell's arrest is her first, state records show. It comes a month after St. Petersburg police arrested the mother of another murder victim on charges of possessing crack and committing acts facilitating prostitution. She is Susan Schorpen of Sarasota, mother of Carlie Brucia.

Still shaken a day after her arrest, Ramsdell said the worst part of her arrest were the hours she spent Monday at the Land O'Lakes jail.

"Seven hours of hell in the same place with the man who (allegedly) killed my daughter," she said. "All I knew walking in this place was this man is going to see me or I'm going to see him. It scared me so bad."

She didn't see Partin. But partly because of him, she doesn't plan on fighting the charge or making excuses.

"That would be like Partin saying, "I killed her because of this or that,' " she said.

"No. It was my job, and I failed to do that job correctly. No matter what the reasons, I failed."

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at (727) 869-6236 or cjenkins@sptimes.com.

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