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Death of man found in car puzzles police

Tarpon Springs police think the young white male may have been shot elsewhere, but little else is known.

By KELLEY BENHAM

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 23, 2002


Tarpon Springs police think the young white male may have been shot elsewhere, but little else is known.

TARPON SPRINGS -- No one knows how long the dead man sat slumped in his car Monday afternoon in a puddle of blood with his windows down, the car's bass speaker shaking an upscale Bayshore Drive neighborhood.

No one is sure where he came from, how or when he died. Police won't say who he is.

The man discovered in a Honda Civic in the front yard of a home had what looked like a gunshot wound in his left side, fire Chief Kevin Bowman said. He was dead when paramedics arrived about 2 p.m., he said.

The man was white and in his early 20s, police said. The silver Honda had Michigan plates.

Police think the man was shot somewhere else, Tarpon Springs Capt. Robert Kochen said, but they don't know where. They are investigating the death as suspicious, and would describe the wound only as "nonaccidental trauma."

What happened Monday afternoon up until the car came to rest against a bush in the front yard at 623 Bayshore Drive remains a mystery.

The car had been heading south, but it left no obvious sign of either braking or acceleration on the street, Bowman said. "It looked like he just drifted over there," Bowman said.

The car apparently rolled off the right side of the road and through at least three neatly mowed yards. On its way, it threaded two live oak trees, ripped out some flat-topped azaleas, missed a sailboat parked in a driveway and stopped when it hit the bush.

Sometime later, Scott Matzke, 24, of Hudson was driving down the street with his father after doing some construction work a few blocks away. He heard throbbing bass, looked to his right and saw the car in the yard with the man inside.

"He doesn't look all right," he told his father. "He looks like he's hurt."

Matzke jumped out of the truck and ran to the Honda, he said. The driver, wearing gray shorts and no shirt or shoes, was slumped back against the seat, he said. He had been driving with the windows and sunroof open. His dirty blond hair was messy like he'd just awakened, Matzke said.

Matzke turned down the volume on the Alpine stereo and said, "Buddy, are you all right?"

He shook the man. "Answer me."

Then he looked at the man's face and saw that his eyes were open. He had blue eyes.

Matzke opened the car door and saw blood pooled in the floorboard and dried on the two-tone leather seat.

"I saw all kinds of blood," he said. "No breathing. No pulse. No nothing."

He told his dad to call 911.

Tarpon Springs paramedics pulled the man out of the car onto the grass and pronounced him dead at 2:03 p.m., Bowman said. Police detectives, the Pinellas County sheriff's forensic team and the Medical Examiner's Office converged on the scene.

Police wouldn't say whether a gun or identification was found in the car or if the man's family had been notified. They were questioning people within a 1-mile radius of where the car was found and would release more information after an autopsy, Kochen said.

A few people reported seeing the car earlier that day at Fred H. Howard Park, about a mile away. The car is memorable because of its black alloy racing rims, spoiler and roaring muffler, they said. Two young adults said they saw the driver sunbathing near the causeway around noon, with '90s rap music blaring.

Bewildered neighbors peered past the yellow police tape in disbelief Monday afternoon. Nearby, kids played in sleeping hammocks and tossed footballs.

"This doesn't happen here," said Mary Bellotte, a retiree who lives in the neighborhood. She has lived in Tarpon Springs more than 40 years and feels safe enough to leave her car door unlocked, she said.

"This kid, he doesn't belong here," she said of the man under a yellow plastic sheet.

"But who shot him?" she said. "And why?"

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