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Deputy's shooting adds to somber day

Already mourning the weekend death of one of their own, deputies are heartbroken when they hear "Pasta" DeCarlo is shot.

By COLLEEN JENKINS
Published May 31, 2003

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[Times photos: Ron Thompson]
Citrus County sheriff's Detective Brian Spiddle inspects two bullet holes in windows of the Citrus Springs home where the gunfire occured.
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VICTIM: Sgt. David DeCarlo, 35, is in critical but stable condition SUSPECT: Larry Edward Robbins, 25, will be charged with attempted murder.
Detective Brian Spiddle of the Citrus County Sheriff's Office checks a tree trunk for bullets after the shooting.

Citrus County Sheriff's employees were prepared for a somber mood in the office Friday. Longtime employee Pearl Ann Meadows Payne, 53, had died in a freak boating accident over the Memorial Day weekend, and a service was scheduled for 3 p.m.

But before most employees had even gotten to the office, more bad news came. Another one of their own, a man they fondly refer to as "Pasta," had been hit by two bullets shortly before dawn. The close-knit employees were heartbroken once again.

"You know the job is risky, but you never want to hear that happen," said Elena Vitt, a personnel analyst.

Sgt. David M. DeCarlo, 35, a longtime Citrus resident proud of his Italian heritage, had led a Special Investigations Unit team to 9705 N Cortlandt Drive in Citrus Springs to serve a search warrant. Law enforcement officers suspected drug activity at the home.

Things didn't go as planned. Larry Edward Robbins, 25, shot DeCarlo in the left shoulder and abdomen. The officer shot back, hitting Robbins in three places, authorities said.

A woman at the home was shot in the hand and taken to Citrus Memorial Hospital. At least one woman at the scene was taken into investigative custody and would be questioned, said Sheriff's spokeswoman Gail Tierney.

As of Friday evening, DeCarlo remained at Tampa General Hospital in stable but critical condition. He had undergone surgery, though doctors decided not to remove the two bullets until his blood pressure and other vital signs were stabilized.

The bullet in his abdomen was close to the spinal cord. Still, doctors expect a complete recovery.

Lt. James Martone, supervisor of juvenile affairs, didn't have such reassurance when he first heard a colleague had been hit. He was already at the office when he heard the news broadcast over the radio, he said later.

The information shocked him. DeCarlo and his wife of nearly seven years, Sherri, were classmates of Martone's at Citrus High School in the early 1980s. Martone coached their sons, Cameron and Blake Jenkins, on Inverness Little League teams. The fellow officers also work out together.

They were planning on running together next week in the nation's capital. DeCarlo was scheduled for another early wakeup call today as a chaperone for a Safety Patrol trip to Washington, D.C.

Blake, who finished fifth grade Thursday, followed in his stepfather's footsteps this year by donning a badge as a member of the Safety Patrol at Pleasant Grove Elementary.

The six-day trip, slated to start at 5 a.m. today, would have been the second for DeCarlo. He also accompanied Cameron three years ago, said Martone, who organizes the trips.

DeCarlo told Martone he would be interested in running on this trip, "as long as it (didn't) take any time away from Blake," Martone said.

"He's very supportive of the boys," Martone added. "He's very laid back. He's got one hell of a sense of humor. He's just an all-around great guy. That's why this one was so hard to take. It's been so long since we've had (an officer shooting), and now all of a sudden it's someone who's so popular at the Sheriff's Office."

On-duty officer shootings in Citrus County have been rare. The most recent occurred in August 1983, when 35-year-old deputy Bruce Lovett was shot five times by a suspected burglar near Citronelle.

At the Tampa hospital on Friday, Sheriff Jeff Dawsy said the officers weren't looking for Robbins when they arrived at the Citrus Springs home. But, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement records, the man has had many run-ins with law enforcement over illegal drugs. (More details in Metro & State section.)

DeCarlo's record at the department is impressive. His personnel folder at the Sheriff's Office, which dates back to his Feb. 16, 1987, hire date, is stuffed full of commendation and appreciation letters. In the stack where discipline notices typically are found, none bear his name.

A graduate of Central Florida Community College, DeCarlo came to the Sheriff's Office as a dispatcher in the emergency services office. He became a deputy in 1989. In 1995, he transferred from road duty to the Special Investigations Unit.

In that unit, DeCarlo was no stranger to high-risk drug busts. Last year, he seized a methamphetamine cooker, a steel pot that appeared to have been used to produce the highly addictive central nervous system stimulant, from a Floral City home.

Like her colleagues, Vitt, the personnel analyst, felt a pain in her stomach when she heard about the shooting. She spent Friday morning hoping for the best for the dedicated and well-liked officer, she said.

"It's been a very rough week," she said. "We're very relieved to hear he's going to be okay."

Spokeswoman Ronda Hemminger Evan agreed. Also the wife of a sergeant, she could empathize with what Sherri DeCarlo and her boys were going through. News like this hits home.

"We're fortunate we live in Citrus with a low-crime rate," she said. But, "People say, "why do you train so much? That can't happen here.' Unfortunately, it can happen here. It can happen anywhere."

- Times staff writer Suzannah Gonzales contributed to this article. Colleen Jenkins can be reached at 860-7303 or cjenkins@sptimes.com

[Last modified May 31, 2003, 06:29:41]

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