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Man's death thought to be a shark attack

By MIKE BRASSFIELD

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 31, 2000


ST. PETE BEACH -- Nearly every day, Thadeus Kubinski swam in the warm, peaceful waters behind his home on Boca Ciega Bay. He found it relaxing and probably never gave it a second thought.

Most of his neighbors swam there too, and none of them worried for their safety.

On Wednesday afternoon, Kubinski was swimming about 10 feet off his own backyard dock when disaster struck. Authorities think a shark attacked Kubinski, 69, and killed him as his wife stood nearby.

"I heard his wife screaming really loud," said next-door neighbor Yoli Pate. "I ran over there, and her husband was floating face-down in the water next to the sea wall. Blood was everywhere."

The apparent shark attack, all but unheard of on Florida's Gulf Coast, left the community reeling. Lifetime residents of St. Pete Beach could scarcely believe the news.

Authorities were not absolutely certain Wednesday that a shark killed Kubinski, but they believe that to be the case. Kubinski had suffered a massive bite to his upper torso, said St. Pete Beach fire Chief Fred Golliner.

"From the type and size of the wound, it looks as though it may be an apparent shark attack," Golliner said. "All indications lead to that."

The Pinellas County medical examiner was to perform an autopsy and was planning to have a marine biologist examine the wound to determine whether it was a shark bite.

Kubinski was attacked about 4 p.m. behind his waterfront house on Holland Drive, a cul-de-sac in the Belle Vista neighborhood of St. Pete Beach, just north of the Pinellas Bayway.

Kubinski's wife got him out of the water and onto his dock, Golliner said, but it was unclear whether she saw the attack.

"I've been in this city for 25 years, and I've never heard of a shark attack here in all that time," Golliner said.

Kubinski's stunned neighbors fell into two camps: Some wondered if they ever would be able to go into the water again, while others saw his death as a freak accident, unlikely to be repeated.

Neighbor Sarah Cassidy, 13, often saw Kubinski swimming in Boca Ciega Bay, which is part of the Intracoastal Waterway. The two would wave to each other.

"I swim out there every day. I swim at night. I never would have thought anything like this would happen," Cassidy said, visibly upset. "I won't go in there by myself anymore. I'm definitely going to have a lot of people with me."

Neighbor Jeffrey Beaulieu said Kubinski was a strong swimmer, fit for his age, who had recently added on to his house. Beaulieu has seen a shark in Boca Ciega Bay only once -- in 1991.

"But it's deep water out there," Beaulieu said. "We're right around the corner from the gulf. You never know."

Rob Stambaugh, who lives nearby on 42nd Avenue, has lived on the island for 54 years.

"Ever since the movie Jaws, we all get a little worked up about shark attacks," Stambaugh said. "But every weekend I'm out on the water, and never have I been concerned about the possibility of sharks. You look at the tens of thousands of people who swim around here with no problem. I'm sure I'm not going to let this keep me out of the water."

His wife is Debbie Stambaugh, executive director of the Gulf Beaches of Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce. She had conflicting reactions to Wednesday's news.

As a neighbor, she felt terrible for Kubinski and his family: "It's a tragedy. A man is dead."

As chamber director, she couldn't help but worry that "sensationalistic" news coverage would hurt beach businesses.

"I dive all the time. I see sharks all the time. They're more scared of me than I am of them," Debbie Stambaugh said. "I'm not going to stop going in the water."

She also thought the media was jumping the gun by immediately labeling Kubinski's death a shark attack: "All I want is for the facts to come out."

Tourists can be fickle, and even the vaguest report of approaching bad weather, let alone a shark attack, can steer them away from the beach on a holiday weekend.

"You know, every time we get a bad report, it kills us," said Jane East, assistant manager at Egmont Key Island Adventures. "We do the Egmont Key trip, too, and that involves swimming and snorkeling, and I'm sure this is going to have an impact.

"People have asked . . ., "Do you have sharks?' and we say, "Oh, nothing to worry about.' Well, I'm sure this will make a difference."

Danny Walker, president of the Belle Vista Civic Association and a former city manager, scarcely believed the reports until he heard news helicopters hovering above his neighborhood.

"I've lived here for 28 years, and you are telling me something that, quite frankly, I find unbelievable," Walker said.

Many homeowners along the canals surrounding Belle Vista have docks and are continually in the water of Boca Ciega Bay. Although they know they share the waterway with manatees, dolphins and sharks, they generally don't fear the wildlife.

Gary and Victoria Long, who live across from Kubinski, saw him swimming three or four days a week.

"We kayak here all the time. We've never given it a thought," Gary Long said. "We've seen a lot of dolphins and manatees, but we've never seen a shark."

Kubinski's sons spoke to the media outside his home Wednesday night. Afterward, neighbors came by to offer their condolences.

"Don't be afraid to swim in the water," Kubinski's son Edward told them. "It was a one in a million chance."

- Staff writer Amy Wimmer contributed to this report.

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