TAMPA — A man charged in a fatal road-rage stabbing used less lethal means to attack his victim first, a witness said — striking him with a Nike flip-flop, hurling a cup of onions at him and threatening to shoot him.
Then Teddy Baltimore Smith Jr., 44, produced a knife and plunged it into the chest of Gilbert Serna, 56, during a confrontation Wednesday on Fowler Avenue at Interstate 275, Tampa police said.
Smith was arrested Thursday on a charge of second-degree murder.
Serna was a passenger in a green Dodge Ram truck owned by a landscaping company when the driver, Jeffery Hunter, pulled up at a stoplight to the left of a dark BMW convertible driven by Smith, police said.
In a statement to police, Hunter said, "the victim and the suspect got into a verbal argument because the victim spit outside of the truck and the spit may have gotten onto the suspect's vehicle."
Hunter gave this account, according to a police affidavit released Friday:
After Serna and the BMW driver argued, the driver struck Serna with the flip-flop, tossed something at him from a cup and threatened to shoot him. Then the driver reached inside his BMW, produced a small knife, gripped the passenger door frame of the truck with his left hand and plunged the knife once into Serna's chest.
Serna was still seated at the time.
The driver returned to the BMW and pulled away. Hunter followed him in his truck but lost him a few blocks away near 109th Avenue and Ashley Drive, just west of Florida Avenue.
Hunter then noticed that Serna was bleeding and had stopped breathing, so he dialed 911.
Officers performed CPR on Serna, but he was pronounced dead at a local hospital, police said. Detectives arriving at the scene found blood on the passenger seat of the truck and onions stuck on the door, according to the affidavit.
Police found the BMW in a parking lot on Wednesday. Sometime before 1 p.m. Thursday, detectives made contact with Smith. At 10 p.m., he was arrested on a charge of second-degree murder.
At the time of the incident, Smith wasn't supposed to be driving. His license was revoked due to failure to pay traffic fines.
He was accused of using a knife in an attack once before, in 2012, when he told a man he would "slit his throat," according to a police report from the time. The charges were dropped.
Police arrested Smith three other times, between 2014 and 2016, on charges of kidnapping, battery and aggravated battery. Those charges also were dropped.
Times staff writers Anastasia Dawson and Jonathan Capriel and senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.