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Fall from balcony kills woman, injures man

A deputy says an argument spilled out onto the balcony, and the wooden rail gave way. The two fell about 13 feet.

By RICHARD DANIELSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 30, 2000


DUNEDIN -- A 48-year-old Dunedin woman died Monday after she and her boyfriend fell off their second-floor balcony during an argument, and he landed on top of her, Pinellas County sheriff's deputies said.

Marilyn Lovejoy was dead at the scene. Her boyfriend, 50-year-old Richard E. Burns, was in fair condition after being taken by helicopter to Bayfront Medical Center.

Homicide detectives were at 540 Beltrees St., immediately across the street from Dunedin Elementary School, but sheriff's Deputy Cal Dennie said the sheriff's office was characterizing the case as a "death investigation" and could not say whether charges would be filed.

Neighbors told investigators the fall, which occurred at about 5 p.m., followed a day of loud arguing at the home, which Lovejoy bought last December.

Dennie said the argument apparently spilled out onto the balcony, and the white, wooden rail gave way. The two fell about 13 feet onto an area of concrete and dirt, he said.

Neighbor Rosemary Herrle, who lives across Louden Avenue from the home, said she had been gone most of the day and had not heard arguing.

Late in the afternoon, however, she heard a loud but indistinct yell followed by "a big thud."

Looking out her side window, Herrle said she saw Lovejoy lying on her back near the steps leading to her front door and Burns, barefoot, crawling into the house.

She rushed across the street and checked Lovejoy's wrist for a pulse, but didn't get one.

"I was the first person to get over there and she never regained consciousness," said Herrle, 54, who works as a sales assistant at a beach hotel. "She never moved at all."

Herrle said Burns crawled inside, and she could hear him using the telephone to call for help.

Then he crawled back outside and tried to approach Lovejoy, but Herrle and others told him to stay back. Herrle described him as "grief-stricken," saying, "Oh my god. Oh my god."

"What I observed was him trying to do everything he could to get her help," she said. At one point, Burns told Herrle that he thought he had broken both his ankles.

Dennie said sheriff's deputies handled a domestic violence complaint last year in which Burns was the suspect and Lovejoy the victim. He did not know the resolution of that case.

Burns has a lengthy criminal history in Pinellas County. He also has been arrested in Jacksonville on charges of shoplifting and disorderly intoxication.

Last January, he was arrested and charged with simple domestic battery and ordered not to have contact with the victim. Prosecutors did not file formal charges in that case, and it was unclear whether that case had anything to do with the 1999 domestic violence call.

Charges against Burns since 1990 range from careless driving and disorderly intoxication to driving under the influence and trafficking in illegal drugs. For many charges, formal charges were not filed and Burns was not prosecuted.

Herrle said she was unaware of the history indicated by sheriff's officials and public records. She said she occasionally heard arguing from the house, but added that she had heard similar arguing from other homes as well.

To the contrary, she said, Burns and Lovejoy seemed friendly and had occasionally chatted with her about car repair. They seldom used the balcony, she said, although Burns occasionally would sit out on the balcony, play country music on a guitar and sing.

What happened Monday was unlike anything she had ever heard before, Herrle said.

"It was the loud thud that was the real sound," she said. "It was totally quiet after that."

- Times staff writer Leanora Minai and researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report.

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