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Dogs bear brunt of man's rage

With the pets and propane tanks inside, he ignites his SUV in his ex- girlfriend's driveway.

By JOHNATHAN ABEL, Times Staff Writer
Published January 25, 2008


John A. Paulette III's burned-out SUV sits in his estranged girlfriend's driveway in Pinellas County on Thursday morning. Paulette started the fire while inside, then got out and locked the dogs in the vehicle. Deputies dragged him away from the burning SUV.

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[Jim Damaske | Times]
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John A. Paulette was seriously injured and one of the two dogs died in the burning vehicle.

INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - John A. Paulette III found an extreme way to lash out at his estranged girlfriend Thursday, according to authorities.

The 41-year-old Dunedin man showed up at her house at 7 a.m. with his dogs Sweetie and Honey loaded into his Ford Explorer along with four tanks of propane.

As deputies tried to stop him, Paulette set the sport utility vehicle ablaze then got out of the vehicle and closed the door, locking his two Labrador retrievers inside.

The ensuing fire sent him to Tampa General Hospital where he was listed in serious condition Thursday night in the burn unit.

Sweetie, born in 1998, was killed in the fire. Honey, who was born in 2003, was left in dire condition with wounds from flying glass, severe burns and head trauma that threatens permanent brain damage.

The immolation's cruelty and premeditation shook everyone involved.

"If you're going to hurt yourself, hurt yourself," said Pinellas Suncoast Fire Rescue Chief Russell Livernois. "But you don't have to take somebody someone loves. I truly believe deep down that he was doing it to hurt her. If you take someone's pet like that, she's going to remember that for the rest of her life."

***

According to authorities, Paulette came by the house in the 400 block of 20th Avenue in Indian Rocks Beach around midnight. His estranged girlfriend's father told him to leave. When he showed up again at 7 a.m., she called the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

Deputies found Paulette inside his SUV showering himself and his truck with some type of liquid, according to Sgt. Jim Bordner. He opened the driver's-side door and suggested the deputies step back because the truck was about to explode.

The fire department was summoned.

As if on cue, Paulette lit the car ablaze. When the deputies went for their fire extinguishers, Paulette exited the car, closing the door behind him. He moved around to the back and tried to open the rear liftgate, Bordner said.

The deputies ordered him to get away from the car. Then they Tasered him. Neither worked. So two deputies had to drag him to safety.

A third deputy cracked open the sport utility vehicle's window with his fire extinguisher and tried to put out the flames to rescue the dogs. He suffered minor injuries.

Neighbors joined the other deputies using garden hoses and fire extinguishers to put out the flames.

The firefighters arrived a few minutes later and knocked down the fire, only to find it flare up again. That's when they realized there were many flowing tanks of propane in the back.

"If that would have blown, we would have had a lot of damage," Livernois said.

Once the flames were beaten down, rescue workers made a macabre discovery: Paulette's two dogs.

Sweetie was dead. Honey was barely alive.

Paramedic Jeff Pyles gave Honey oxygen with a special mask designed for a dog's snout. The dog was also given morphine for the pain and a drug called Solu-Delta-Cortef for the shock.

An animal ambulance took her to the SPCA's facility in Largo and then on to Lake Seminole Animal Hospital, where veterinarian Michael Rumore took over.

Rumore said Thursday evening that Honey had a 60 percent chance of survival and even if she lived, there is a chance she would never be able to see.

Her lungs were damaged from the smoke and the explosion. Her face and body were badly burned. Shards of glass had to be removed from her face. And her eyes were almost too swollen to examine.

But that's not the worst of it.

"If she's sustained major damage to her brain in the explosion, that's going to be the thing we have to worry about most," Rumore said. "If she has severe or permanent brain damage, that could be the end of her."

There was some good news, however. Early Thursday afternoon, Honey for the first time responded to outside stimuli, which could signal an eventual recovery.

But it's too early to tell.

"Labs are notoriously good-natured and forgiving dogs," Rumore said. "Honey deserves better than this."

Thursday was not the first time Paulette had run afoul of the law, though Bordner said none of the previous incidents involved Paulette's current estranged girlfriend.

Paulette, 2535 Marquis Drive, will undergo a mental health evaluation before any charges are considered.

Court records show he has been adjudicated guilty for drug and alcohol offenses. He pleaded no contest and had adjudication withheld for an aggravated battery charge in 1997.

Times researcher Caryn Baird and staff writer Casey Cora contributed to this report. Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or 727 445-4157.

[Last modified January 24, 2008, 23:41:03]


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