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Weatherman left open Bible with suicide note

Autopsy findings offer insight into forecaster John Winter's suicide.

By ABBIE VANSICKLE
Published May 26, 2007


TAMPA -- He left a suicide note in the kitchen, near a Bible opened to John 14. "Let not your heart be troubled," the chapter began.

The weatherman died alone in his garage April 5, his grandfather's funeral notice his final companion. The grandfather, too, had taken his own life.

John Winter, the 39-year-old meteorologist who brightened so many mornings, had anxiety medication in his body when he died. Sometimes it helped his nerves, his wife, Karen Winter, recalled.

"He took Xanax if he needed it," she said. "To my knowledge, it was just when he needed it."

Friday evening, hours after the release of both her husband's autopsy report and a recording of the 911 call that warned of his suicide, Karen Winter said she can't get used to thinking of him in the past tense.

"It's hard to imagine that he's not here anymore," she said. "I just miss him more than he'll ever know."

She knows she's not the only one missing him.

She thanked the hundreds who came to his funeral that rainy April day, the thousands who commented online or to WFLA-Ch. 8, the television station where he worked. He meant so much to so many, she said. If only he knew that while he was still alive.

"I don't think he realized how much people thought of him," she said.

About 3:30 p.m. the afternoon of Winter's death inside the Lithia home he shared with his wife, someone called 911.

On a tape of that conversation, the caller, a woman, identifies herself as a "friend."

Her voice sounds unsure. She repeatedly says she's not sure whether Winter would harm himself, whether to take him seriously. She wants the call kept as private as possible. She doesn't want sirens.

Karen Winter said she didn't know the woman's identity.

The woman called from Pinellas County and was transferred to Hillsborough, so the tape begins with the woman's concerns.

"I have a friend that has threatened to possibly hurt himself," the woman tells an emergency dispatcher.

"I don't want to overexaggerate. However, if he were to do something ..."

Her voice trails off as the dispatcher cuts in.

"What is he threatening to do to himself?" the dispatcher asks.

"He kept saying. ..." She pauses. "He's threatening to end it all now."

The dispatcher tells her she did the right thing by calling.

"Was he taking any medication?" the dispatcher asks.

"I believe he may be," the caller says.

She says she knew he took prescription medication, but adds that "he's not on drugs or anything like that."

His emotional state concerned her most, she says.

"He's just been very down, very depressed, full of anxiety and stress," the caller says.

The dispatcher tries to figure out whether Winter had been taking too much medication.

"Did he sound groggy when you spoke to him?" the dispatcher asks.

"No, just totally, just, I don't know, um, aloof, not groggy but just ..."

"Did he sound like he had taken something?" the dispatcher asks.

"No, he didn't sound right, but he didn't sound like that, no," the caller responds.

The call lasts eight minutes, 21 seconds. At the end, the dispatcher tells the woman she can call in later to find out what happened.

The woman hung up before emergency crews got to Winter's FishHawk Ranch home.

At 5922 Tealwater Place, deputies found Winter's best friend, Robert Fontaine Jr. He told deputies he had spoken with Winter earlier that day but got worried when Winter stopped answering his home and cell phones.

As deputies forced their way inside, they heard a gunshot in the garage. They found Winter dead, a .45-caliber gun clutched in his hand, according to the Hillsborough medical examiner's report on Winter's death.

Winter was alone in the home. He left a note, but the Sheriff's Office declined to release it or talk about its contents. His wife also declined to talk about it.

A funeral notice for his grandfather was found on a weight bench next to Winter in the garage. The medical examiner's report said the grandfather killed himself in 2005, but the report did not identify the grandfather.

His wife declined to talk about the grandfather's death, saying that it was a private matter in her husband's family.

Investigators took medication from the home, Karen Winter said, but there was no indication of anything other than caffeine, nicotine and Xanax in his body. On the kitchen counter near the suicide note, deputies found a Bible. Karen Winter said it was no accident that it was open to John 14, a chapter in which Jesus tries to prepare his disciples for his impending death.

It begins: "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me."

Times staff writer Rebecca Catalanello and news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Abbie VanSickle can be reached at vansickle@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3373.