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2nd body in burned pickup identified

The man had been a landscaper and played soccer at Pasco High. Officials still don't know the cause of the blaze.

By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 4, 2003

DADE CITY -- A self-employed landscaper has been identified as the second man found last week in a burning pickup in the Withlacoochee State Forest.

Ricardo Novoa-Mendoza, 28, of 37335 Warren Ave. in Dade City, was identified by the Pasco-Pinellas Medical Examiner's Office on Jan. 31 using dental records. Some records show his name as Ricardo Novoa.

His name was released Monday after the Pasco County Sheriff's Office notified his family.

Relatives remembered Novoa-Mendoza as a star soccer player at Pasco High School and an avid Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan. Carlos Novoa struggled Monday to accept his younger brother's unexplained death.

"He doesn't even know how it happened," said Cristian Novoa, translating for his Spanish-speaking father, who lives in Brooksville. "They're all sad because (Ricardo) was the smartest one in the family."

A visitation for Novoa-Mendoza will be held today from 6 to 8 p.m. at Hodges Family Funeral Home, 14046 Fifth St. in Dade City.

A funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday at St. Rita Catholic Church, 14404 14th St. in Dade City.

Firefighters discovered the remains of Novoa-Mendoza and John Clay Combs Jr., 23, of Zephyrhills, the evening of Jan. 27 after extinguishing a truck fire on an unmarked dirt road in the state forest. The site was just north of the Withlacoochee River and south of the Pasco-Hernando county line.

Novoa-Mendoza and Combs were acquaintances, "but at this point we don't have any other details about their relationship," sheriff's spokesman Jon Powers said.

Officials have not yet determined what killed the two men or what caused the blaze that engulfed Combs' red-and-silver Dodge Ram truck, Powers said.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Pasco County Sheriff's Office toll-free at 1-800-854-2862 and ask for detective Allen Proctor at ext. 5115.

-- Bridget Hall Grumet covers crime in east Pasco. She can be reached at (352) 521-5757 ext. 23 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6108, then 23. Her e-mail address is .

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