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That day's terror left scars of questions

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By MARY JO MELONE

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 10, 2000


Sylvio Izquierdo-Leyva is accused of shooting five people to death and wounding three others in the Dec. 30 bloodbath at the Radisson Bay Harbor Hotel in Tampa.

But that day, he also taught some people a lesson that will remain the rest of their lives in their thoughts, dreams, prayers. He shoved unanswerable questions under their noses. Why did this person die, not another? Why did he turn and run at one moment, stand and shoot at another? Why did his gun sometimes fire, sometimes fail?

Izquierdo had been so kind to Mary Galeano, another employee, earlier in the day. She'd come to work only to find somebody had stripped her housekeeping cart of its linens and cleaning materials. She had rooms to fix up and no time to spare refilling the cart. She began to cry. She wanted to quit. Izquierdo, who had never before said more than hello, approached, telling her, "Don't leave and lose your job over a cart," Galeano recalled in a police interview. "This is their country. Do not give them the pleasure. I will fill it up for you."

Yet hours later, Mrs. Galeano was pleading for her life as she huddled in a laundry room with another housekeeper. "I am not going to forgive anyone," Izquierdo said. He pulled the other woman out of the room, giving Mrs. Galeano a chance to hide. When Izquierdo returned, he couldn't find her.

Then there was the couple from Texas, hotel guests Jon and Mary Ellen Hays, who ran out the back of the hotel, jumped off the sea wall and down onto the rocks. Izquierdo ran after them, gun drawn, but when he got to the sea wall he stopped. Another witness heard him say, "Don't worry. Don't worry."

A Virginia visitor, part of a crowd fleeing the shooting, saw a woman ahead of him fall. Barbara Carter had been shot in the face, from about a foot away, the medical examiner later said. But the visitor, Lester Johnson, apparently didn't hear the shot and couldn't understand why she wouldn't get up when he tried to drag her to safety.

After Izquierdo fled and police swarmed the hotel, Johnson climbed to an upper hotel floor and looked down at where he'd just been. He saw that woman, Barbara Carter, right where he'd left her. Only then did he realize he had tried to save a woman he had seen die.

Izquierdo left the hotel in a hijacked car. He drove to West Tampa, to a parking lot at La Teresita restaurant. Nearby, Vivian Olivera waited in her Volvo for her daughter, who was stopping at a jewelry shop.

The car windows were open. Olivera heard people in the restaurant parking lot yelling to someone to "to give him the car, give him the car." She looked in her rearview mirror and saw Izquierdo point a gun at another motorist, saw him shoot, police reported. Olivera mistakenly thought the driver, Delores Perdoma, must still be alive, because the car bolted across the street.

A moment later Olivera heard a man screaming at her that he would kill her. "She felt a gun against the temple of her forehead," the officer who interviewed her wrote. "She related she could even smell the gunpowder, that's how close the gun was."

She put her foot on the accelerator and took off, nearly hitting a police cruiser.

For what happened to the housekeeper, Mary Galeano, Izquierdo was also charged with aggravated assault with a firearm. For what happened to Vivian Olivera, he was charged with attempted carjacking with a firearm.

Izquierdo faces 20 counts in all.

There is no law to punish him for the permanent damage to people like these others, though, some of them strangers, who suffered no visible wounds, and whose only act against him was to be, if only for seconds, in Izquierdo's way.

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