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Police: Man sets fire, kills himself

Phillip Battersby, who was depressed about the death of his wife, friends say, died early Saturday.

By CHASE SQUIRES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 2, 2002

NEW PORT RICHEY -- Friends said Phillip Battersby never got over his wife's death.

Early Saturday, authorities and neighbors believe he set fire to the home the two had shared, then shot himself to death.

"He was the greatest guy in the world, and he had a great heart," neighbor and close friend Lita Musik said. "But when his wife died, he really changed."

Battersby, 49, was found inside the Copperwood Drive home when Pasco County Fire Rescue crews arrived shortly before 2 a.m., according to Pasco County Sheriff's Office Lt. J.P. Jackson. He had suffered what appeared to be a self-inflicted injury, and the fires appeared to have been set, Jackson said.

Lita Musik's husband, Jon, said he and Battersby were best friends. He said Battersby had been depressed recently and no one had seen much of him.

"Last couple of weeks, he kept the place closed up tighter than a drum," Jon Musik said. "I thought it was best to give him his space. If I had known, I'd have broken that door down."

Battersby's wife, Mary Brasch, died Nov. 23, 2000, after a bout with throat cancer. The couple had been married 22 years and had moved to New Port Richey 20 years ago from Kenosha, Wis.

Until Mary Brasch's death, Lita Musik said, the couple were part of the lively neighborhood scene in the Woods at River Ridge subdivision where they lived.

"Before she died, we had block parties constantly, and they were always there," she said.

Battersby's son, Phil Jr., spent Saturday morning combing through the rubble of the house. The roof had collapsed and the inside was gutted, but the walls were still standing.

"It's hard to say anything right now," the younger Battersby said.

Neighbors were searching for the elder Battersby's dog, a white mixed-breed named Runner. The dog apparently fled the fire and was afraid to come back, Lita Musik said.

Jackson said the state Fire Marshal's Office was investigating the fire and the Sheriff's Office and Medical Examiner's Office would continue to investigate the death.

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