tampabay.com

Homeless men found slain in early hours

By ABHI RAGHUNATHAN and ALISA ULFERTS
Published January 18, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - David Heath, 53, was once a bat boy for the New York Mets, went on to father three children and loved watching movies with his son. He died alone in an alley, his walk to a friend's house cut short.

Jeff Shultz, 43, loved the ocean, fixed boat engines and just returned to the city after visiting his family in North Fort Myers during Christmas. He died just nine blocks away from Heath, his bicycle beside him.

The two homeless men were gunned down within an hour of each other early Wednesday morning. Their bodies were found in alleys in United Central, a quiet residential neighborhood.

Police believe the same three teenagers killed both men. Witnesses at both sites told police they saw three black male teenagers with close cropped hair walking briskly away from the bodies. Police say they appeared to be between 13 and 18 years old; one wore long pants while the other two wore shorts.

The murders of the two homeless men shot fear through St. Petersburg's homeless population, which grew closer in recent weeks after its members fought to establish a tent city.

The murders also added pressure on the city and county to find more housing for the area's homeless, whose tents have added both visibility and legal complexity to the issue.

"If it bears out that these were people who were homeless and without a safe place to be, then we need to pay more attention to offering them something," said St. Petersburg City Council member Jamie Bennett.

Gathered in small clusters Wednesday outside the St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen on 15th Street, several homeless said they feared for their safety, especially now that the tent city nearby has been shut down.

"I'm helpless, too. I'm all alone out here and I don't know what's going to happen," said Audrey Lake.

Although neither victim's name is on the county roster of former tent city residents, several homeless people and their advocates said the men visited the tent city and may have stayed there before it was organized.

Some wonder if the two men might still be alive if the camp on Fourth Avenue N, which violated city code, hadn't been shut down.

"There's safety in numbers, and right now there's a lot of fear," said Mary Street, who left tent city last week after getting a voucher for an apartment.

Both victims received services from Refuge Ministries, said its leader, Rev. Bruce Wright, and both may have stayed at shelters in the city. But it was unclear if they sought shelter Tuesday evening. Heath's family and police say he was staying with a friend.

There are about 250 emergency shelter spaces and 500 longer term housing spots in a city with about 2,250 homeless.

Tom Kennell, who said he has lived in the streets of St. Petersburg for 15 years, said Heath and Shultz generally slept on their own. "They would go back and forth to (St. Vincent's) and get something to eat, and they'd sleep on the street," he said.

Police say Shultz, who was found at 6 a.m. at 3511 Sixth Ave. N, was probably killed first, around 12:30 a.m.

Police believe Heath was killed about 20 minutes later, though they found his body first because residents called after hearing gunshots. He lay in an alley near 43rd Street and 7th Avenue N.

Sgt. Mike Kovacsev, the head of the department's homicide unit, said the murders don't appear drug-related, though Shultz may have been robbed; his pockets were turned inside out. Police found neither drugs nor weapons on the two men.

Police say the shooters may live in the area. "This was a walk-by shooting," said police spokesman Bill Proffitt.

Glenn Swenson, 85, who lives just a few feet from where Shultz's body was found, said his son heard gunshots, but thought they were fireworks. "This is a shock for our neighborhood," he said.

***

David Heath grew up in St. Petersburg, graduated from Boca Ciega High and served as a batboy for the "Miracle Mets" when they won the 1969 World Series. Willie Mays hit him fly balls.

He worked in several restaurants his family owned in St. Petersburg. He also worked on barges, despite an injury that allowed him to collect disability checks.

Over the years, he accumulated a lengthy arrest record: shoplifting, cocaine possession, driving under the influence.

In 1999, he wrote a letter to a judge asking for leniency: "I do have a substance abuse problem and am seeking help ... I have bipolar II a mental illness."

He was once married to Lynn-Marie Carty, now a prominent private investigator who was shaken by the news of his death. Their son, Jason Heath, 20, works in customer relations for the St. Petersburg Times.

Jason Heath said his father often stayed with friends and family members. Father and son got together regularly to watch movies, and both loved Little Miss Sunshine.

"He was really smart ... a fun-loving guy," Jason Heath said. "There was nobody like him."

His arrest record and lack of a driver's license made it tough to find steady work in recent years, Jason Heath said. Also, David Heath suffered a heart attack several months ago, and spent months in hospitals.

Jeff Shultz grew up in Pennsylvania and later moved to North Fort Myers to live with family. His mother, Barbara Hartz, 67, said he graduated from high school.

Shultz found work when he could as a handyman. He came to St. Petersburg about six months ago to repair boat engines.

"He loved the water," Hartz said. "Jetskiing, boating, you name it."

Like Heath, he racked up an arrest record: driving under the influence, cocaine possession, marijuana possession. Last May an officer found a crack pipe in his pocket. He was found guilty of cocaine possession in October and sentenced to six months, including credit for time served.

Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report.

Police seek info 

Anyone with information should call the St. Petersburg Police at (727) 893-7780.