Stabbing in park shows that little has changed

A grieving father wants the violence to end.

Published May 31, 2007

CARROLLWOOD - Over 18 months of anguish, Ron Tomlinson has remained focused on stopping violence in Logan Gate Park.

It was there, on Dec. 8, 2005, that Tomlinson's 13-year-old son, Stephen, was strangled. It was there where Tomlinson and other neighbors campaigned for a park upgrade.

"My kid, what happened to him, I don't want it to happen to another one, " Tomlinson pleaded.

But another untimely death almost did happen in Logan Gate Park, on May 20.

Christian Filpo, 17, was stabbed twice in the back and once in the side shortly after midnight that Sunday morning in an altercation between two groups of youths.

Filpo told deputies he and two companions went to the park because one of them had arranged to fight another youth there. But a big group awaited them, igniting a chase in which Filpo was stabbed, according to the deputies' report.

Around 1:30 a.m., said neighbor Joel Wynkoop, "We all heard somebody screaming."

"The fight was supposed to be over a girl, " said Debbie Carter, a spokeswoman for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

Victim's uncooperative

Since that night, further details have been scarce. Carter said Filpo was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital. But the hospital wouldn't release information, citing the wishes of Filpo's family. The Times couldn't reach Filpo.

Moreover, Carter said, "At this point, he has not been very cooperative with detectives."

From Tomlinson's perspective, authorities have had 18 months to wring a trickle of good out of Stephen's death, and the stabbing is another reminder that nothing tangible has changed.

The man accused of killing Stephen, Joshua Rosa, 21, has lived in the Hillsborough County jail for 17 months as his murder case plods toward trial. Before that, Rosa lived near Logan Gate Park.

Things at the park are only getting worse, said Tomlinson, 47, a disabled metal framer. He has heard of youths beaten up there. He sees beer bottles left there and gang graffiti on a picnic table. He believes deputies neglect the place.

Wynkoop, the neighbor, said two deputies refused to walk into the park the morning of May 20, even though neighbors told them rowdy youths were hiding there. Carter acknowledges that Filpo, the stabbing victim, was found lying on the ground by a neighbor walking his dog.

But she denied Wynkoop's contention that Filpo wasn't found for 90 minutes after deputies were called. She said the deputies who responded to the disturbance promptly encountered Filpo.

As to Tomlinson's complaints, "I will assure you that there are deputies that go there as time permits, " Carter said. She added some visit the park out of uniform, in unmarked cars.

Hard looks don't scare

The day after the stabbing, May 21, would have been Stephen Tomlinson's 15th birthday. A grieving Ron Tomlinson bought a birthday balloon. Then he walked to the back of Logan Gate Park and tied the balloon to a white cross he erected in memory of his son.

On the way, he passed a group of youths sitting at a picnic table.

"These kids gave me this look, hard, like they were going to try and jump me, " he said. "I'm not going to let any punks scare me off."

Tomlinson would like to see the Sheriff's Office put a trailer in the park, as a way station where deputies could do paperwork and, in the process, deter crime.

But since Stephen's killing, Hillsborough County's reaction has come almost entirely from the Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department, which is sending crews starting next week to begin a series of improvements.

Mark Thornton, the parks director, is cautionary about the impact on crime.

"There is nothing that we can build or design that can stop that activity after dark, " Thornton said.

Parks officials met with residents of Logan Gate Village a year after Stephen's death, and concluded a dog park would be the most popular option there. Ron Tomlinson had argued for a recreation center. Now he is angry that no change at all has occurred.

"Waiting on the county, " he said, "You can forget it."

By mid July, Thornton responded, the dog park will be up, with extensive fencing. The playground equipment will be upgraded, and new rubber flooring will replace sand under it.

"The biggest deterrent to negative activity in a park is to increase the positivity activity there, " Thornton said.

Maybe not, said Tomlinson, who wonders if organized dog fighting will follow.

"There are too many pit bulls and too many crazy kids in here, " he said.

Bill Coats can be reached at 813 269-5309 or coats@sptimes.com.