Spate of deaths still unresolved
By CARRIE JOHNSON, Times Staff Writer
Nancy Florin's body was found sprawled in a ditch by U.S. 19 on New Year's Day free of any tell-tale bullet wounds, knife slashes or other trauma.
Another grisly discovery came 18 days later, when a neighbor saw the body of a man later identified as Bryan Blanton floating face-down in a Floral City canal. Again, the cause of death was a mystery.
A third strange death occurred in February. Gary Doss, found on the floor of his tidy gray mobile home, appeared to have died of a gunshot wound. But investigators didn't know if it was self-inflicted or the work of an assailant.
The deaths are unconnected except for two factors: They all happened in Citrus County and authorities are still unsure how the people died.
Also on the list of the county's recently and mysteriously dead are Kenneth R. Richardson, the evangelist found with an arrow through his torso; Allen Koslavkos, who stopped breathing after he was dragged from underneath his trailer by sheriff's deputies; David Delade, the Homosassa shrimper found floating in the Gulf of Mexico clad only in his underwear; and Renee Harris, a 24-year-old Ocala woman whose body was discovered along the Cross Florida Barge Canal.
The lack of answers is unnerving for family members who seek closure for their loved one's death. For some, the wait for an explanation has stretched on for weeks, even months.
"It's just so hard," said Gayla Wilson, Koslavkos' longtime girlfriend. "It's been my experience in life that not knowing is worse than knowing. Sitting here and wondering and wondering and wondering . . . I just don't know what's taking so long."
Investigators from the Citrus County Sheriff's Office say they're also frustrated by the unanswered questions. But many elements are beyond their control.
Of the recent deaths, all but two are listed as "suspicious," which means investigators don't yet know if they were accidental, self-inflicted or murder. Richardson, the man with an arrow in his torso, and Harris, the woman in the barge canal, are labeled as homicide victims.
Unlike on television, where autopsies are performed in less than an hour and lab results are available in minutes, police work in the real world takes time, said Detective Danny Linhart, who is investigating the Blanton and Doss cases.
"Everybody wants everything to be expedited, send it out one day and get it back the next," he said. "But that's just unrealistic. Law enforcement just doesn't work that way."
Autopsy results can take up to a week. Toxicology reports may not be ready for two months. The wait for DNA evidence from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement can be almost a year.
Results from toxicology reports in the Blanton, Doss and Koslavkos cases still have not been released. Those reports are important, Linhart said, because they could mean determining whether a death was an accident or a homicide.
So why do they take so long?
In most cases, an autopsy is performed within a day or two after a body is discovered, said Dr. Valerie Rao of the Medical Examiner's Office in Leesburg.
If a cause of death isn't apparent from the autopsy, material such as fluid from the eye, blood from the heart and bile from the gall bladder will be sent to a toxicology lab at the University of Florida in Gainesville to perform more tests, said Rao.
In some situations, such as the Nancy Florin case, even the toxicology report is inconclusive.
In those instances, the state medical examiner's office will send the body to a lab in Orlando for microscopic inspection, where the internal organs will be studied even more carefully, Rao said.
Bruce Goldberger, who heads the lab in Gainesville, said most people mistakenly believe toxicology tests only take a few minutes. In fact, it may be several days or more before results are known for some of the more complex tests.
"It's not like TV where you get a result in 30 seconds," Goldberger said. "Many of these tests are very complicated when it comes to the chemical analysis required."
Also, because some of the tests are very expensive to run they are only performed once every two weeks or less, Goldberger said.
The Gainesville lab performs toxicology reports for about 2,500 bodies a year and handles cases for more than 20 counties.
Despite the heavy workload, there is no backlog, Goldberger said. Tests begin within two or three days of receiving the material, he said. But because the results may someday be used in court, they must be very thorough, Goldberger added. It takes an average of about two months to complete all the tests.
"The families just have to be patient," he said.
Sgt. Dave Fields, head of the major crimes unit for the Citrus Sheriff's Office, said detectives continue working on the cases while waiting for the toxicology reports.
There is still evidence from the crime scene to be collected and recorded, witnesses and family members to interview and financial records and other documents to be sorted, he said.
Progress has been made in most of the recent cases, Fields said, although that information isn't always shared with the public.
However, while the cases are all serious, Linhart said he doesn't believe they represent a threat to the public safety in Citrus County.
"They're suspicious to us. That's why we're investigating them," he said. "But there's not a serial killer on the loose."
Danny Doss, Gary Doss' brother, said he's trying to be patient but it gets harder and harder as the days stretch on.
His family held two memorial services after the death, one in his native Roanoke, Va., and another in Florida. But Doss, 52, of Oak Hill said it's difficult to move on when so many questions remain.
"It could be anything -- suicide, homicide, nobody seems to know," he said. "That's what's hard."
-- Crime reporter Carrie Johnson can be reached at 860-7309 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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