tampabay.com

Two Pasco rapes share violent details

By JAMAL THALJI
Published March 28, 2007


ZEPHYRHILLS - Both victims were 68-year-old women, home alone. Both were attacked in the early morning hours.

Both were robbed. Then they were raped.

Authorities now wonder: Was it the same men?

Pasco County authorities are stepping up their investigation and increasing patrols after a rape was reported Tuesday that bears many similarities to a March 1 assault in the same area.

"Given the fact that the crime was heinous enough the first time, now they seem to have escalated it," said Pasco sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin. "It's particularly important for us to get these people off the streets."

The incidents have left a community with many seniors on edge.

On Tuesday between midnight and 1 a.m., the second victim was watching TV at her home in the Ramblewood mobile home park when two masked men broke in, authorities say.

They beat and robbed her, and then forced her into her minivan.

One man drove. The other raped her.

They pulled over in a sand quarry north of the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport and threw the woman down a 20- to 30-foot embankment, into the shallow water below. Then they pushed her minivan down into it, too.

Police could not say why the men threw the victim into the quarry.

The victim, her clothes wet, crawled out and flagged down a passing motorist who called 911.

Her left eye was swollen shut from the beating, Tobin said, and she suffered bruises, cuts and scrapes from being thrown into the quarry.

It's a crime that authorities say is similar to the March 1 home invasion in the Winters mobile home park about 2 miles away.

In that incident, two masked men robbed and raped another 68-year-old woman in her home.

The brother of the woman raped on March 1 said his sister awoke about 2 a.m. with a knife to her throat.

Authorities say two men slipped in through a window, then spent the next half hour raping her. They kicked her in the face when she tried to get up, and robbed her.

When her brother heard about Tuesday's attack, "The first thing I thought was the same two guys are at it again."

A neighbor saw a small red car leaving the area of the first reported attack.

But authorities wouldn't discuss how the men in the second attack arrived at the victim's home, or how they left the sand pit.

Both victims gave similar descriptions of the men.

"It appears that we're dealing with the same suspects," Tobin said.

The identities of both victims and of their relatives are being withheld because of the nature of the crimes.

The wider Tampa Bay area has seen a recent spate of such crimes. Virgil DeBose was arrested on March 16 in an attack on a 78-year-old woman in Pinellas County. Authorities there say he is also a suspect in two other cases: the rape of a 58-year-old woman and an assault on an 85-year-old woman.

Just hours after Tuesday's attack, Pasco Sheriff Bob White met with the supervisors in charge of the investigation and patrolling the area.

Extra deputies have been assigned to patrol southern Zephyrhills, according to the Sheriff's Office, and extra investigators are working both cases.

In the nearby city limits, the Zephyrhills Police Department said it's stepping up its patrols as well.

Both victims belonged to 55-and-over communities. Residents there say they will be vigilant, too.

The mood in Ramblewood was "very scary," said Ada Leak, 79. "Especially for the women who live alone."

The victim in the first attack is back in Massachusetts, her brother said, where she is undergoing counseling.

"If I tell her this happened," he said, "she won't come down here again."

Staff writers Erin Sullivan and Molly Moorhead, staff photographer Mike Pease and researcher Carolyn Wos contributed to this report.

Fast fasts

Authorities seeking information

Anyone with information about Tuesday's attack is asked to call Pasco sheriff's Detective Mel Eakley at (800) 854-2862, ext. 5016.

Crime prevention tips

- Make sure all doors and windows are locked and the garage door is down, said Pasco sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll.

- If you have a security system, make sure it's activated.

- Report suspicious activity, persons or vehicles in your neighborhood to 911 or your local law enforcement agency.

- At the first sign of suspicious activity or noise around your home, call 911 for assistance.

- Even if you're unable to complete your call to 911, make sure you at least dial it in case of trouble. "We'll show up to make sure everyone is okay," Doll said.