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Tampa Air Force veteran, 34, dies after rampage, struggle with Pasco deputies

Neighbors called John Sellinger’s actions out of character.
Neighbors called John Sellinger’s actions out of character.
Published Dec. 31, 2016

LAND O'LAKES — An Air Force veteran who had been reported missing from Tampa died Thursday after a rampage a day earlier in Pasco County, where authorities say he assaulted a 70-year-old motorcyclist before a violent struggle with sheriff's deputies.

John Sellinger, 34, endured pepper spray and shocks from a Taser as he fought with deputies. After he was detained, he went into "distress," according to Pasco County sheriff's officials. Despite lifesaving efforts, he later died at a local hospital.

His exact cause of death was not immediately clear. It capped a bizarre chain of events that began Wednesday, when authorities received reports of several hit-and-run accidents in Hillsborough County.

Sellinger's wife, Laura, had reported him missing that day. He lived in a Seminole Heights house recently donated to his wife by the Gramatica Family Foundation. Both Sellingers had served in the Air Force. An improvised explosive device had detonated near Laura Sellinger in Iraq in 2006, causing a severe brain injury.

Standing outside the home Friday night, Laura Sellinger declined to comment publicly. But on Thursday, she posted a message to the social networking website LinkedIn.

"My husband died today, I wish I could make that up," she wrote. "I wish I could sit here today and tell you a different story, a tale that ends in a happier ending but this one is tragic."

She spoke of his having "survivor's guilt" that had "exploded." Her neighbors said that he, too, had post-traumatic stress disorder. He listed 10 years of active-duty service, with stints in Afghanistan and Iraq, on his LinkedIn page.

On Wednesday, after he was reported missing, at least four callers to 911 reported a reckless driver on State Road 54 near the Suncoast Parkway, sheriff's officials said. As deputies drove to the scene, further reports told of a man who tried to carjack another vehicle, smashed the window of a second car, then tried to steal a motorcycle from a 70-year-old man.

Deputies said the motorcyclist pulled a weapon when John Sellinger confronted him. Sellinger then began choking the man, nearly to unconsciousness, before bystanders intervened, deputies said.

A deputy finally arrived at the scene, at 2502 Land O'Lakes Blvd., where he saw several people chasing Sellinger. The deputy followed. When he caught up, Sellinger refused to follow the deputy's commands and tried to fight, sheriff's officials said.

The deputy struck Sellinger with a Taser, but the shock had no effect, officials said. Sellinger then ran across the road into a field as more deputies arrived.

A deputy sprayed Sellinger with pepper spray, but that also had no effect, officials said. As the struggle continued, a deputy used a Taser a second time, knocking Sellinger to the ground.

After enduring a 5-second shock, Sellinger managed to pull one of the Taser probes from his skin, breaking the connection, according to the Sheriff's Office account. The deputies continued to struggle with Sellinger before they managed to detain him.

They called for medical personnel, due to Sellinger's behavior and exposure to pepper spray, the account stated. As they awaited their arrival, officials said, Sellinger went into unspecified "distress."

Deputies performed CPR and used a defibrillator to try to revive Sellinger. Paramedics arrived and took him to a local hospital, where he died Thursday.

Sellinger's neighbors said the circumstances leading to his death were out of character. They described a doting husband, a father to an 18-month-old son, a man who was often seen pushing a baby stroller or walking a dog.

"I saw him putting up Christmas lights two or three days before Christmas," said Linda Martinez, who lives across the street. "I waved and he waved back. To my knowledge they were doing fine, a fine young couple."

In her LinkedIn post, Laura Sellinger said she was looking into hiring an attorney and asked for support from friends.

"He was never suicidal EVER," she wrote. "He knew he had too much to live for but he ended up a missing person but the cops used excessive force and he's now dead."

Had he survived, sheriff's officials said, Sellinger faced charges of attempted murder, battery on a law enforcement officer, carjacking, attempted auto theft and resisting arrest with violence.

His cause of death was pending the results of toxicology tests.

His mother, Diana Sellinger, answered the door of her Oldsmar home but declined to comment. On Facebook, she told friends the tragic news.

"He was a beautiful boy who continued on to be a great man," she wrote. "Kind, compassionate, caring, funny, handsome, right fighter, perfect, warrior, loving, wonderful. These are the qualities our family will forever hold close."

Times senior news researcher John Martin and staff writer Josh Solomon contributed to this report. Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

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