Mom wants more answers

A St. Petersburg mother is angry at deputies here who name no suspects in her daughter's death.

By JOEL ANDERSON, Times Staff Writer
Published January 11, 2008

BROOKSVILLE - Mary Lewis decided that she would not budge this time, even if it meant her daughter would probably decide to move out of their St. Petersburg home.

She absolutely would not let her 19-year-old daughter, Dominique Lewis, invite her boyfriend to live with them.

"I had been trying to tell her to leave him alone," Lewis said Thursday, calling the boyfriend abusive. "But she told me that if he couldn't stay, then she couldn't stay. I didn't think she would really move out."

But two weeks before Thanksgiving, Dominique Lewis gathered her belongings, moved some of them to her father's house and found a room at a nearby motel. It would be the last time Mary Lewis would see her oldest daughter.

Dominique Lewis' body was found Dec. 11 in an isolated thicket of north Hernando County, decomposing next to train tracks about 25 yards off Brooksville Rock Road, a peculiar dumping ground for a woman who lived almost 75 miles away and had no known link to the area.

Since stumbling upon that grisly scene a month ago, Sheriff's Office investigators have been tracking leads in the case but have yet to make an arrest. Their hunt for information has recently concentrated on St. Petersburg, where detectives are handing out fliers with Lewis' picture.

"Our target audience is there ... that was the last known area where she had been seen," Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Donna Black said. "We still aren't going to rule out anyone from this area knowing some information."

So far, the Sheriff's Office has declined to publicly pinpoint any suspects.

Thus, how Lewis' body wound up at the end of a remote two-lane county road remains a mystery. And the sparse details of her final weeks do little to fill in the gaps of a final, improbable journey from St. Petersburg to the rural outskirts of Hernando County.

Mary Lewis has grown frustrated with the pace of the investigation and reticence of the Hernando detectives, saying that she's about done sharing information with them.

"I'm mad as hell with them," Lewis said. "This has been a mess from the whole beginning."

Hints of past problems

Once Dominique Lewis left her mother's home, she found a room at the Bay Breeze Motel at 3900 34th St. in St. Petersburg, according to a release from the Sheriff's Office. The place is more used to short stays, with rates as low as $40 for a night and $210 for a week.

Not surprisingly, neither Lewis' face nor name struck a chord with regulars at the motel.

"The people who come here wouldn't know her," said Sewdhan Ramdhani, an employee at Bay Breeze. "The people here come and go, go and come. Most of them spend two or three weeks here, and then they're gone."

Lewis had been taking courses at Ultimate Medical Academy in Clearwater, though it's unclear how long she was enrolled there or if she was attending classes in the days before her disappearance. Several messages left with one of her instructors had not been returned Thursday evening.

The only other available public records hint at more troubled times: Lewis had been arrested for fraud and disorderly conduct in the past few years.

Mary Lewis said her daughter had focused her energy into becoming a nurse after dropping out of Pinellas Park High School. The oldest of five siblings, Dominique Lewis easily made friends and loved to meet new people, her mother said.

"She was a people person. Anything someone asked her to do, she would do it," Mary Lewis said. "That could be how she got up to Brooksville. She had to get up there some way."

After moving out of her mother's home, Dominique Lewis virtually disappeared. She called one of her younger sisters around Thanksgiving, but that isthe last time Mary Lewis remembers anyone having contact with her daughter.

"I was worried," Mary Lewis said, "but I didn't ever think in my mind that she was dead."

Sad ending discovered

On the morning of Dec. 11, a CSX railroad worker, riding the rails that lead from the Cemex quarry to Brooksville, reported a foul smell and a large number of vultures in the area to Hernando deputies.

Lewis' body was found decomposing about 25 yards off Brooksville Rock Road, hidden by the tall trees and waist-high brush. Investigators couldn't determine how long the body had been there, but Black called it a "recent" death.

The investigation created a rare bit of commotion for William Hazivasilis, 78, who lives in a home shrouded by the woods about 50 yards away from the spot where Lewis was discovered.

"My wife and I were discussing it, and it had to be somebody that knew the area," said Hazivasilis, who has lived near the end of Brooksville Rock Road for the past 33 years.

"We're so isolated over here. Both of the streets over here dead end. Somebody would have to know that nobody would see them back here."

'Such a tragic death'

Lewis had 8-inch braided extensions colored purple at the ends, and she was wearing gold-colored hoop earrings with dolphins. She also had a tattoo on her left wrist with a name, possibly Jeremy or Jimmy, and star bursts on either side. The tops of her feet were marked in Old English lettering, "Libra" on the right and an unrecognizable image on the left.

The Sheriff's Office has not released more information, such as the cause of death, because the case is still under investigation.

"We all want to solve this case ... it's such a tragic death," Black said. "It's terrible, especially with a young person being a victim of a murder."

From her home in St. Petersburg, Mary Lewis said she'll continue to plug away for her own information. She wants to see someone arrested, if only for her peace of mind.

"I won't be comfortable until I know who did it," Lewis said. "I don't get much sleep at night. I don't know who killed her or if they'll be after us."

Joel Anderson can be reached at joelanderson@sptimes.com or 754-6120.


Have a tip?

Anyone with information regarding this case should call the Sheriff's Office at (352) 754-6830. Calls can be made anonymously to Crime Stoppers at (866) 990-TIPS (8477). A $1,000 reward has been offered in the case.