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Twice in danger and twice lucky

© St. Petersburg Times
published December 20, 2001

The situation's potential did not strike Tampa Officer Gary Metzger until it was over.

Working extra-duty Monday afternoon at the Central Bank on Kennedy Boulevard, Metzger had just stepped out to his patrol car for some paperwork when a bank robber walked in and demanded cash.

Walking back, Metzger said, "I noticed the girls at the front door with that look on their faces." When they pointed out the man who had just robbed them, Metzger took off.

"I started to run after him, pulled my gun and was screaming at him, 'Get your hand out of your pocket and hit the ground!' "

Instead, the man kept walking away, his left hand in his pants pocket.

At that point Metzger holstered his gun and tackled the man. Metzger grabbed the suspect's left wrist and wrapped his right arm around him. They hit the ground together, hard.

The man was later identified as a drifter from Pennsylvania. A quick search of his left pocket revealed a knife with a serrated edge and a hook on the end. The right pocket contained money stolen from the bank.

"Afterward, I thought, here I am almost six months from Lois (Marrero, the officer killed chasing a bank robber), and I shouldn't be here," Metzger recalled. That day, the same suspect who killed Marrero fired 10 shots at Metzger and fellow officer Dave Shepler, missing them both

"You could hear them zing over your head," Metzger said. "I lucked out there, and now this one."

DATE IS KEY: The scene of the crime: the clerk's office. The evidence: the date on a notice of appeal.

The question: Just when did prosecutors file an appeal in a vehicular homicide case?

If Assistant State Attorney Art McNeil filed the appeal on Feb. 28, 2001, it's too late -- and will be dismissed. That means defendant George Smiley will get a new trial on charges he drove through a red light as he fled from police in July 1999, crashing into a car and killing a 23-year-old mother.

But if McNeil filed the document on Feb. 26, as he asserts, the appeal came in just under the deadline.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal ordered Circuit Judge Rex Barbas to hold a full-blown hearing on the mystery.

Barbas probably will look at the stamp on the document. Clerks use an official date stamp to record when something is filed. Someone -- we don't know who -- has handwritten the number "8" over the date, making the stamp say Feb. 28. If you look hard, it looks like the stamp actually says "6," which means the document was filed on time on Feb. 26.

Did someone tamper with the stamp?

"It appears it has been changed," McNeil said. "I can't imagine anyone crazy enough to do that."

McNeil plans to call his secretary to the witness stand to testify that he gave her the appeal on Feb. 26. "There is no doubt in my mind that we got it in on time," he said.

FEW WANT TO RUN: Whenever the governor gets to appoint a new judge in Hillsborough, a slew of lawyers apply. Nearly 30 put in their names for the latest opening to replace Circuit Judge Dick Greco Jr.

But few lawyers want to be a judge badly enough to campaign for the office.

The small number of candidates seems strange, considering that several judges, including Robert Bonanno, Florence Foster and Chet Tharpe could be especially vulnerable next year because of assorted recent controversies.

Among the lawyers who want an appointment, several would make obviously strong candidates -- not that we're endorsing anyone.

Consider attorney Michelle Peden, who displayed political star power during her interview before the Judicial Nominating Commission. Although the commission did not send Peden's name to the governor, from what we saw she charmed the group, putting commission members at ease and making them laugh with her wit and poise. A former prosecutor, Peden would have natural appeal on the campaign trail.

Peden said Wednesday she hadn't given the idea of a campaign a lot of thought.

"I haven't ruled it out or ruled it in," Peden said. "It's a possibility."

A MONTH TO NOTE FOR MANY REASONS: It will be five years this Christmas Day since Alfred Capitano was killed when a motorist drove through an intersection at E 21st Avenue and N 34th Street and slammed into his car.

A stop sign knocked down in a minor accident 19 hours earlier lay nearby.

Two Tampa cops who had previously gotten high marks from their bosses, Brian Timmons and Debrynna Garrett-Alfred, were fired, despite protesting they had been cleared to leave the scene by their supervisor, Cpl. Amy Keck. It was a claim Keck denied.

About this time last year, new details emerged in the case. Three weeks before the fatal accident, Keck had attempted suicide and been committed for psychiatric evaluation. After her suicide attempt, she returned to duty without being cleared by a doctor, as required by department policy. Instead, Keck, who was living with Deputy Chief John Bushell and his wife at the time, was picked up from the hospital by the Bushells and reported to work the next day.

Bushell would later tell investigators he cares about Keck "like a daughter."

Keck gave three different versions of the events of that night, and the case boiled down to her word against that of Timmons and Garrett-Alfred. Bushell, who supervised the investigation, recommended the two be fired.

Keck and Bushell later had letters of discipline placed in their files.

Timmons and Garrett-Alfred have since sued the city and Bushell, and the case is slowly winding its way through federal court. A recent decision denied Bushell's motion that as a government official, he is immune from being sued, since he was only doing his job.

Keck's career, meanwhile, appears to have gotten back on track. In December, she was named Officer of the Month.

-- Got a tip? Call us at 226-3386 or 226-3376.

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