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Woman kills armed attacker

Authorities say the woman used a handgun to kill a neighbor who wielded a knife and wore a mesh bag over his face.

By CARY DAVIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 10, 2000


LAND O'LAKES -- Maria Pittaras was startled awake early Wednesday morning by a man on top of her in bed, holding a knife to her throat.

In the darkness, she reached for a loaded .38-caliber handgun she keeps on the nightstand.

While grabbing the gun, she misfired once into the wall, then managed to put the barrel to the intruder's neck and fire.

The shot killed Robert James Metz, a 47-year-old neighbor who lived just four houses away. Pittaras, 28, told police she hadn't known Metz before the attack. She moved into the Turtle Lakes subdivision earlier this year.

Sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll said the shooting appears to have been a case of self-defense against an attempted sexual assault, and detectives have no reason to doubt Pittaras' story.

"The investigation is ongoing, but it appears so far that it's an open-and-shut justifiable homicide for the purpose of self-defense."

Metz, wearing gloves and a nylon mesh bag over his head, broke into Pittaras' one-story pink stucco house through a guest bedroom window, the Sheriff's Office said.

His wife, Carolyn Metz, told detectives she didn't hear her husband leave their house.

Metz had no criminal record in Florida, records show. His family declined to comment.

Pittaras, through her parents, also declined to comment. She left her house on Foggy Ridge Parkway after the shooting, calling 911 from an undisclosed location.

Her mother, Angeline Pittaras of Palm Harbor, returned to her daughter's house late Wednesday.

"We're not proud of what has happened," Angeline Pittaras said. "I thank God my daughter's alive, but I know there's a family out there grieving. I pray for everybody."

Maria Pittaras was not injured in the incident, Doll said.

The Sheriff's Office provided few details about Wednesday's shooting.

It is unclear how far Pittaras reached for the gun or what hand Metz used to hold the knife. She grabbed the gun with her right hand, but Doll did not know what side of the bed the nightstand was on. He would not say whether a struggle occurred before the shooting.

Metz owned the knife used in the attack, Doll said.

"It just makes you sick," said Michele Perez, Metz's ex-wife, who also lives in Land O'Lakes. They were married for seven years, divorcing over irreconcilable differences in June 1986. She said Metz had no history of violence with her.

"You think you know somebody, and then something like this happens and you realize you don't. But I'm sorry, I just don't believe it."

Reactions in the quiet subdivision south of State Road 54 ranged from sympathy for Metz's family to praise for Pittaras' actions.

Many knew Metz well, describing him as a friendly man and skilled carpenter.

A private contractor, he built many of his neighbors' decks, docks and fences. They found it hard to believe a man who cranked up his generator and made coffee for them during power outages could have died this way.

"I just don't believe he was in his right mind," said neighbor Al Levins, who lives between the Metzes and Pittaras. "I think he just lost it."

Levins said he and his wife took a ham to Metz's family Wednesday afternoon. Carolyn Metz, he said, "is taking it real bad."

Peggy Whiting, who lives across the street from Pittaras, said, "This is so scary. I'm going to get me a gun."

Whiting said the neighborhood has recently experienced a rash of burglaries and minor crimes.

"I hope it lets the people who are victimizing us know that we are going to protect ourselves," Whiting said.

Metz, an ex-Marine and Vietnam War veteran, and Carolyn, his third wife, married in November 1986. They bought their house at 1255 Waterbury Loop in 1995, according to property records. Metz, a Michigan native, is survived by two grown daughters from his first marriage, said Perez, his second wife.

His friendly personality may have masked a troubled mind. In April 1996, according to a sheriff's office report, rescue workers found an unconscious Metz had mixed alcohol, anti-depressants and tranquilizers in an apparent suicide attempt.

Metz was "clinically depressed" at the time, Carolyn Metz told deputies.

Few in the neighborhood seemed to know Pittaras. She bought the house in March, property records show. It is unclear what she did for a living.

Carla Sanders, a member of the Turtle Lakes homeowners association, welcomed Pittaras to the neighborhood: "She was quiet, a real to-herself kind of person."

Pittaras' younger sister, Sophia, died in 1987 after a battle with leukemia, an ordeal chronicled in a series of Times articles. Pittaras, with her mother and another sister, helped care for Sophia, who was 7 when she died.

- Times Staff Writers Ryan Davis, Tamara Lush and Chase Squires, and Times researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report.

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