John DeGuenther was sleeping at a Howard Johnson motel on N Dale Mabry Highway when a commotion outside his room awakened him around 5:30 a.m. Wednesday.
At first, DeGuenther wasn't sure if he was overhearing an angry phone call or an argument. He definitely heard a man yelling. And he heard banging noises.
"You knew something very bad was about to happen," said DeGuenther, 63. "He sounded extremely angry."
Moments later, a naked man ran into traffic on Dale Mabry and began to jump on cars and slam his head onto windshields, according to Tampa police. Officers arrived and tried to take him into custody, but the man struggled and experienced some kind of medical problem in the back of a patrol car, police said.
The man, identified late Wednesday as Nathan Howard Hamilton, 39, was taken by ambulance to St. Joseph's Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.
The exact cause of death is still unknown.
An unidentified man called 911 at 5:36 a.m. and described Hamilton's bizarre behavior to the operator.
"We just had a man just run out the hotel, butt naked, run out here on Dale Mabry and just jumped on somebody's car on the highway here," the man said in the 911 recording.
"You need to hurry up and get here cause I don't know what he doing, but he's trying to break peoples windows and whatever," the man said.
According to the call, Hamilton stood on the hood of a car, beat and kicked the vehicle and, at one point, tried to open the driver's side door and pull the male driver from his seat. The two people in the car eventually got out and stood on the sidewalk, taking pictures as Hamilton "went crazy," the caller said, pacing the highway and attacking cars that had stopped.
Officers closed the southbound lanes of Dale Mabry between Columbus Drive and Spruce Street for about 3½ hours as detectives investigated. A Chevrolet coupe sat in a right turn lane in front of Denny's. Its window was cracked and blood stains dotted the passenger door and hood.
A man and woman later got into the car and drove away.
Hamilton had been staying in room 141 at the Howard Johnson Hotel at 2055 N Dale Mabry Hwy, police said. Witnesses said they heard screaming before Hamilton appeared in front of the hotel naked.
The room's front window had been broken and a bent window screen lay on the ground. Blood dotted the concrete walkway.
Assistant general manager Yogesh Desai said Hamilton checked in Monday and was scheduled to check out Wednesday. Desai had just started his shift and said he hadn't interacted with him.
DeGuenther, the other hotel guest, said he has no doubt the screaming man who woke him up is the same man who later died, though he never actually saw Hamilton. And what the man said chilled him:
"How could you do it? It was only a baby. I'm going to kill you,' " recalled DeGuenther, who lives in South Carolina and is visiting family in Tampa.
If it was Hamilton, it would have taken him only moments to reach the highway.
"He was a danger to people driving down the road and also a danger to himself," said Tampa police spokesman Steve Hegarty.
Hamilton damaged at least one vehicle and left behind smears of blood, Hegarty said. In the southbound lanes, he jumped on a car, kicking and hitting his head against the windshield as it kept moving.
The car stopped near a Denny's restaurant, where Hamilton got off.
Tampa police said an attempt to stop Hamilton with a Taser was unsuccessful and that it took multiple officers to handcuff him. Police said Hamilton appeared to lose consciousness several times during the struggle, but would then come to and continue to be aggressive.
After struggling with police, he was subdued and placed in the back of a patrol cruiser, where officers said he continued to thrash and kick. He was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital for treatment, Hegarty said. No one else was injured in the incident.
According to his Facebook page, Hamilton attended Leto High School in Tampa and became engaged in July. He worked as a painter, a baker, and had a lengthy criminal history in Florida. In 2004 he spent about four months in a state prison for driving with a suspended license and in 2005 returned to prison for about 10 months on charges of trafficking in stolen property and providing false information to a pawn broker.
He was last arrested Sept. 26 on a charge of driving without a license suspended or revoked. He listed his address as 10010 Memorial Highway in Tampa. He was released from the county jail on Oct. 5.
Records show Hamilton has been arrested in Florida 24 times on charges of burglary, sexual assault, domestic violence and aggravated assault with a weapon, among others. His first arrest, when he was 20 in 1997, was on felony battery charges for domestic violence against a pregnant woman.
Neighbors of Hamilton's brother in California said Tampa police notified the family of the incident by mid-morning Tuesday.
The investigation was ongoing Wednesday afternoon. No other details were released.
Contact Anastasia Dawson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites. Contact Tony Marrero at email@example.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.