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Man, 39, drowns in resort hotel pool

Customers saw him drinking, stumbling around and searching for keys in the water.

By LEANORA MINAI

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 12, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- A 39-year-old St. Petersburg man drowned Friday in the swimming pool at the Suncoast Resort Hotel.

Stephen G. Starosta was discovered on the bottom of the deep end at 4:57 p.m. He was pulled out by hotel guests, police said.

Starosta was taken to Bayfront Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy will be performed to determine cause and manner of death.

"Right now, it's looking accidental," said St. Petersburg police Sgt. Bernard L. Rawls.

Rawls and other officers interviewed customers at the resort, which caters to a gay and lesbian clientele. The city's homicide squad was called, which is routine in death cases.

"We have very vague information," Rawls said of the circumstances surrounding the death.

Police and resort customers gave this account:

Starosta, who recently moved from Fort Lauderdale, had been drinking and was stumbling around the pool deck before he drowned. He had been in the pool about 15 minutes before people noticed him submerged in 8 feet of water. No one saw any kind of struggle.

The resort does not post lifeguards; guests swim at their own risk.

"I had seen him swimming back and forth, but then he disappeared," said Raymond Green, 31. "A friend of his pulled him up from the bottom of the pool, and he was blue."

Eric Tippetts, another customer, said he saw Starosta about 45 minutes before he drowned. He walked over from the tiki bar.

"He just tottered over with his smokes and drink," said Tippetts, 35. "He'd take a couple of steps, slow down, lean forward."

Tippetts said Starosta was in the water with his friend, Tommy Tucker. They were looking for keys in the shallow end and might have even started searching the deep end, Tippetts said.

Tucker got out of the water and went to the tiki bar, and Starosta stayed behind.

Suddenly, customers started yelling that someone was on the bottom of the pool. After police arrived, they strung yellow crime scene tape around the pool, and bystanders watched as paramedics pumped Starosta's chest.

"He was kind of a happy-go-lucky guy," said Snuffy Smith, 50, a former neighbor in Fort Lauderdale.

Smith said Starosta had trouble holding down jobs. "He was more or less looking for people to take care of him," Smith said.

- Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report.

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