Mysterious shooting wounds Tampa worker

By Abbie Vansickle
Published February 9, 2007

TAMPA - As James Valdez pulled into his parking space near Lowry Park , someone opened fire, spraying his car with bullets.

The city employee remained in serious condition Thursday at St. Joseph's Hospital, his assailant on the loose.

By the afternoon, police had no description of the shooter and were still piecing together the mysterious crime.

"It doesn't appear to lead in any direction," said Officer Lisa Parashis.

At 4:55 a.m., a security guard at Lowry Park Zoo spotted two cars driving fast on N Boulevard near the zoo, one nearly on the bumper of the other.

Valdez, 35, employed by the city's Clean City Division, was being followed by a white, older model Lincoln Town Car, witnesses told police. He arrived at work two hours before his 7 a.m. start time, according to his employer.

As Valdez parked in a lot across the street from the zoo, someone in the Lincoln opened fire, peppering the driver's side of Valdez's car with bullets, police say.

Valdez dialed his brother, Tampa police Officer Al Valdez, for help, then tried to drive away, police said. He lost consciousness in the parking lot, crashing into a fence. Another employee saw the car and dialed for help, Parashis said. When police arrived, the white Lincoln was gone.

Valdez was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital, where he underwent surgery Thursday morning, Parashis said.

A hospital spokesman said Valdez's family declined to comment.

Valdez was first hired by the city in June 1993 as a summer recreation leader but was fired in 1996 after acting in an "unprofessional and profane manner," according to his personnel file. He was rehired in May 1999 and now works as a service attendant maintaining rights of way in South Tampa, said Clean City Division manager Jim Pinkney.

Valdez has won praise from supervisors for his work, according to his most recent evaluation and his boss.

"He's a very dependable, hard-working employee - efficient at his work," Pinkney said. "He's well-liked by his work associates and has a good sense of humor."

Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report.