Police investigate whether restaurateur's son shot 2 men in self-defense

Published January 6, 2007

TAMPA - Police were investigating whether Joseph Charles Pupello, 23, son of Tahitian Inn owner Joseph Pupello, shot two men in self-defense Thursday night on a South Tampa street.

Detectives continued untangling stories Friday but named five men in the shooting, which unsettled residents on normally calm Tampa Circle, between West Shore Boulevard and Dale Mabry Highway.

Authorities couldn't say who were the victims and suspects. They haven't filed any charges. But they have been able to piece together some details.

They said the younger Pupello drove a black Chrysler 300 into the driveway of 3608 W Tampa Circle at 8:16 p.m. Three men in a blue Lincoln Town Car pulled up behind him and started a fight.

Pupello shot two of the men with a .45-caliber revolver, police said. Steven Stearns, 25, collapsed at the scene. Shane McLaughlin, 26, jumped back into the Lincoln after he was shot, and Ackery Daniel, 29, drove him to a hospital.

The Pupello name is known among Tampa sports figures, some of them regulars at the Tahitian Inn's coffee shop on Dale Mabry Highway. Joseph Pupello's other son, Trent, is a tight end for the University of Florida's football team.

The younger Joseph Pupello couldn't be reached for comment Friday, and his grandmother declined to comment.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show that Stearns has been arrested 25 times and McLaughlin 15 times. Both men, who live in Tampa, were listed in serious but stable condition at Tampa General Hospital on Friday, Tampa police spokeswoman Lisa Parashis said.

Daniel also has been arrested several times before.

Pupello fled the scene on foot while his passenger, Kevin J. Hurley, 19, left in the Chrysler, police said.

A half-hour later, Pupello returned and turned in the gun.

Pupello has no arrest record, according to the FDLE. He does have a concealed weapons permit, valid until 2011, state records show. Hurley had one arrest for a misdemeanor as a juvenile.

Residents on Tampa Circle said they thought the noise was fireworks because violence rarely pays their street a visit.

But the angry shouts that followed told Carol Smith, 54, that it was something more ominous.

In three years living on Tampa Circle, she said, she cannot recall the last time police lights lit up her street. The home that Pupello drove to is owned by Steven Durfee and Cornelia and Patricia Ellingson, property records show.

No one answered the door Friday, but neighbors - who withheld their names because the case was under investigation - said Pupello is friends with Durfee and often visits.

About a month ago, they said, someone broke into Pupello's Chrysler while it was parked at the house. Neighbors didn't know if that was related to Thursday's shooting.

Times researcher John Martin and staff writer Abbie VanSickle contributed to this report. Justin George can be reached at 813 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.