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Neighbors know little about man at center of standoff

By TIM GRANT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 23, 2003

NORTHDALE -- Who lives in the home at 4021 Braesgate Lane? The one that sheriff's deputies surrounded for a tense six hours on Monday?

Neighbors know little about the owner, Robert Walters.

They say Walters rarely comes outside before dark. If they happen to meet him while he's walking his dog on the sidewalk, he's usually not inclined to start a conversation.

"If I'm out walking or riding my bike in the late evenings and I see him I'll speak and say hello and he'll just grumble and not speak back," said neighbor Char Adams.

The quiet and reclusive man became the center of attention when deputies, believing he was inside, declared a standoff outside his home.

The drama unfolded after two bank officials involved in a foreclosure on the home told deputies they had seen a stockpile of guns, ammunition and canned goods in the unoccupied home on Feb. 14. When they returned on Monday, they saw a car parked in the driveway and called the Sheriff's Office.

Deputies evacuated about 15 homes and mobilized the SWAT team, the bomb squad and an armored tank. Agents from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also were called to the Northdale neighborhood.

Through a loudspeaker, officers pleaded with Walters to answer the phone or come to the front door and talk to them. "We just want to check things out and make sure everything is okay."

But in the end, they discovered that Walters was not even home and that all the guns and ammunition had been legally obtained.

Robert Walters did not respond to interview requests.

His brother Phillip Walters described him as "a gun collector."

"We grew up hunting," he said.

Dozens of Northdale residents watched the spectacle from behind the police tape while they commented on Walters' unkept property and swapped stories about the rare occasions he is seen outside.

Court records show Chase Mortgage Services has moved to foreclose on his home for non-payment of the mortgage. A lawsuit filed by the company indicates Walters owes $16,500 on the house, which is valued at $94,000 by the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's Office.

But he owes even more in fines.

Hillsborough County Code Enforcement officers have a lien totalling $26,400 on Walters' property and that number is growing by $100 a day since June 2002.

Code enforcement supervisor Jim Blinck said Walters was cited for problems with his roof, the trim of his house and overgrown conditions on his property. Blinck said if the bank completes the foreclosure and seizes the house, that act will wipe out the county's code lien.

George Aboud, former president of Northdale's homeowners association, said the board has been trying to get Walters to clean his property for years.

"We have written to him, but nothing has been done," Aboud said. "The place continues to deteriorate."

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