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First date ends with death in dark river

Five robbers force a couple into the Hillsborough River early Saturday, and only one makes it back to shore.

By TIM GRANT

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 13, 2001


TAMPA -- The young couple's first date began with high hopes, but ended in tragedy.

Eddie George and Jennifer Simon were chatting at a picnic table in Temple Crest Park about 4 a.m. Saturday when five men approached. Three wore ski masks; one carried a rifle or shotgun, police said.

The men robbed George, 19, and Simon, 22, at gunpoint, then ordered them to get into the Hillsborough River and swim for their lives.

They swam out, and when the robbers left, they began to swim back. But when Simon reached the shore, George was not with her.

After a two-hour search, Tampa police divers found George's body about 7 a.m. Saturday. Although Simon said the gunman fired shots while she and George were in the water, it does not appear that George was shot, said Tampa police spokeswoman Katie Hughes.

Family members said George could swim, but was not a strong swimmer; and it is likely that he drowned.

Simon was unable to give detailed descriptions of the suspects, who were still at large late Saturday. Investigators would not comment Saturday on what was stolen from the victims or from Simon's car.

The only thing Simon told officers about the suspects' car was that it was a dark compact.

Simon declined, through her mother, Tawana Adams, to speak to reporters on Saturday.

"This has devastated her and I both," Adams said. "I'm just thankful nothing happened to my daughter. My heart goes out to his family."

Police said they have no reason to believe any of the robbers knew the victims.

"This is basically a robbery gone bad," said Hughes. "We believe the intent was to rob them."

It should have been the start of a new romance.

The couple had met a few days earlier while George was buying sodas at the 7-Eleven store at Busch Boulevard and 50th Street. They swapped telephone numbers and planned their first date for Friday night.

George had not had a girlfriend in about a year. He and his family were excited about this date.

Things went so well after they got together on Friday that George introduced Simon to his family about 1:30 a.m. Then he told his family that he and Simon were going for a ride in her red Chevrolet Beretta.

"We were all happy he was going out because he was a homebody," said Tosanna George, his sister-in-law.

According to police records, Simon, who lives with her mother in Zephyrhills, told investigators that the gunman ordered her and George down a hill into the river while the other robbers rummaged through her car in the parking lot of the park at 37th and Bird streets.

She said she and George walked side-by-side into the dark water. At some point, Simon said, they heard several shots fired behind them. Minutes later, when they heard the robbers drive off, she said, they started to swim back to the shore.

"She said she saw his face as they were heading back," Hughes said. "She said they were side-by-side."

When she got to shore, Simon said, she ran to a nearby house and asked for help. Then, she said, she realized George had not come out of the river.

Simon had moved to Florida from Illinois recently. She lives in a remote area of Pasco County between Dade City and Zephyrhills.

George lived with his mother and other family members at the Andover Club apartment complex on Busch Boulevard.

He has been arrested twice in Hillsborough County for carrying a concealed weapon. The first time was in November 1999. The second time was in December 2000. Jail records show he worked as a cook at Checkers restaurant and as a day laborer.

- Staff writer Ryan Davis contributed to this report.

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