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Gunman kills 5

Worker's rampage spills from Tampa hotel to city streets

By STEVE HUETTEL, LINDA GIBSON, KATHRYN WEXLER

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 31, 1999


Hotel fatalities
Eric Pedroso, 29
Barbara Carter, 55
Jose R. Aguilar, 40
George C. Jones, 44
Carjack victim
Dolores Perdomo, 56
TAMPA -- Waitress Kathy Pruniski heard the sounds -- Pop! Pop! Pop! -- and assumed they were part of the holiday celebrations at the Radisson Bay Harbor Hotel.

"Isn't that funny, they're getting a jump on New Year's," she said to some guests.

Rafael Barrios, a bellman at the hotel, had arrived to get his paycheck when he saw men and women running out of the lobby and hiding behind cars.

"I thought they were playing some game," he said.

In the space of minutes, a stunning scene unfolded at the hotel on the Courtney Campbell Parkway Thursday afternoon. Beside the pool, a man lay shot to death, draped over a lounge chair. At the rear of the hotel, near the employees' entrance, lay two more bodies, sprawled in front of a minivan. In the hotel's lobby, near the registration desk, was another body.

photo
Silvio Izquierdo-Leyva, charged with five counts of first-degree murder, is walked out of the Tampa Police Department just before midnight Thursday for a ride to the Hillsborough County Jail. [Times photo: Yalonda M. James]
The four dead people all worked at the hotel, and three other employees were wounded. The gunman was identified by workers and family members as Silvio Izquierdo-Leyva, a 36-year-old immigrant from Cuba who had worked at the hotel as a housekeeper for only a few months.

But one of Tampa's most tragic days was not over. The gunman fled the hotel in a stolen car and shot and killed a woman who refused to give up her car near West Tampa's famous La Teresita restaurant, police said. He stole another car and sped off.

Minutes later, cornered by police on a city street, Izquierdo gave up quietly. He was charged with five counts of first-degree murder late Thursday.

Of the three employees who were wounded in the shootings, two remained hospitalized late Thursday, both in critical condition. Their names had not been released Thursday night.

What had set off the killings?

There was no clear answer to that question late Thursday, but some relatives of Izquierdo's said that during the rampage, he went after his sister-in-law, Angela Vazquez, who supervises housekeeping at the Radisson.

Members of Tampa Fire Rescue lead an injured man out of the Radisson Bay Harbor Hotel in Tampa after a gunman opened fire. [Times photo: Amy Newman]

Angela Vazquez and one of her daughters were in the lobby collecting their paychecks when the gunman stormed in. He fired at them but both escaped without injury.

Diana Izquierdo, the suspect's niece, said she could not fathom a motive. "My uncle snapped," she said.

Silvio Izquierdo came to the United States from Cuba in 1995, and has no criminal record in Florida or Alabama, where he lived before coming to Tampa. Relatives said he has a daughter in Cuba and visited there a month ago, returning intent upon becoming a priest in the Santeria religion.

There were indications that only hotel workers were the gunman's targets.

Wendy Sobaski, a member of a Missouri women's college basketball team staying at the hotel, told her father that one of her teammates, Robyn Gerber, came face to face with the gunman as she tried to flee.

"He told Robyn he wasn't interested in (shooting) anyone else, the team was okay," Kenny Sobaski said.

The mayhem started about 3 p.m., amid Christmas lights spread throughout the waterfront hotel. Employees were milling around the lobby preparing for the night shift to come in.

Diane Izquierdo, the suspect's niece, was just about to leave with her mother when the shots started.

"I thought it was firecrackers. My mom was screaming, "Diana, come on! Come on!' " she recounted, crying and clutching her baby daughter's teddy bear.

Silvio Izquierdo saw them and began firing, said Liza Izquierdo, who spoke to her mother by telephone afterward.

"My uncle came in just shooting," Liza said. "He was chasing Mommy through the halls."

Rafael Barrios, 20, the hotel's part-time bellman, pulled up in his white Honda Accord. He saw the men and women running out of the lobby and hiding behind cars. Suddenly, a man calmly stepped from the bushes, stood in front of his car and lifted a semiautomatic pistol, one of two handguns police said he was carrying.

"He pointed it at me right through the window," Barrios said.

The man didn't say a word, but his expression said everything.

"Evil -- just evil in his face," Barrios said.

Barrios watched in horror as the man reloaded a clip. "My life was in his hands," Barrios said. Barrios jumped from the car and ran before the man could reload.

photo
Hernando Rodriguez watches officers search for cartridge casings under a kitchen truck at La Teresita restaurant. [Times photo: Ken Helle]
The man, whom Barrios recognized from housekeeping, walked back into the hotel. A few seconds later, Barrios heard more shots.

When Barrios finally went into the hotel, he saw people he worked with lying on the floor.

"It's tragic. There's so many things going through my mind right now," he said.

The hotel was bustling with fans preparing for the New Year's Day Outback Bowl between Purdue University and the University of Georgia.

Carson Woods of Dayton, Ohio, said he was leaving the lobby to retrieve a bag from his car when he heard shots.

"I heard two pops and saw people running out of the hotel," said Woods, who was sporting a Purdue shirt. "I knew I had to get out of there."

Members of the women's basketball team from Missouri's Truman State University, in town for a game against Eckerd College, encountered a body as they fled their pregame meal. None of the players was injured.

The gunman sped away from the hotel in the Honda owned by Barrios, the hotel bellman.

Inside a food concession stand in the parking lot next to La Teresita, restaurant owner Confesor Rodriguez saw what happened next:

The assailant, who had abandoned the Honda, aimed a nickel-plated handgun at a woman in her four-door burgundy Mercury sedan.

"Lady, give me the car," he told her, said Rodriguez.

When she didn't comply, the gunman shot her through the driver's side window, Rodriguez said.

After she was hit, she put the car in reverse and began to back it up.

The gunman moved on to the next car. He shot at a Jeep traveling south on Lincoln Avenue. The vehicle was hit, but the driver sped away, Rodriguez said.

Next, the gunman turned to the owner of a sports utility vehicle parked in the lot. He wanted the car, but before it took it, he asked whether it had a standard or automatic transmission, Rodriguez said.

It was the owner's lucky day. The car was a stick-shift, and the gunman wasn't interested.

Just then, he saw a white Chevrolet Celebrity station wagon heading toward him on Lincoln Avenue. Inside, Angel Marteliz was heading home, listening to an afternoon radio talk show.

The gunman stepped from the curb as Marteliz came to a stop. He pointed his nickel-barrel gun at Marteliz.

"Take the car," Marteliz told the man, as he stepped out.

"Thank you," he replied.

"I knew to give him the car," Marteliz said later. "I didn't argue."

Soon after -- about 3:40 p.m. -- Izquierdo barged into the home of Angela Vazquez, his sister-in-law, at 3023 Green St. The house, which faces Interstate 275, was a place he had stayed at off and on over the last year.

Nely Rodriguez, 16, a longtime friend of the Izquierdo family, said she was the only one at the home when Izquierdo barged through the front door.

He was dressed entirely in white, as was his custom, and had an urgency that Rodriguez found unsettling. She hadn't heard a word about the shootings.

"Where everybody at?" he demanded, as Rodriguez sat on the couch, watching TV. She said she didn't know.

"He looked weird. He looked paranoid," she said.

"They in back?" he called to her, as he darted into a bedroom where he sometimes slept, now used by Angela's daughters.

When he didn't find anyone, he went to the kitchen sink and splashed water on his face.

He ran outside, then. The faucet was still running. He left the door wide open.

Rodriguez said she stood in the door frame, watching Izquierdo head toward a white station wagon. She dialed a number on the family's portable phone.

Izquierdo suddenly wheeled around.

"He looked at me. Like paranoid," Rodriguez said. "Maybe he thought I was calling the police."

But he turned around, jumped into the car and drove off. Police cruisers stopped the car a few blocks away near the intersection of Spruce Street and N MacDill Avenue.

Thursday's rampage at the Radisson brought back sharp memories of Jan. 27, 1993, when a man fired eight months earlier from the Fireman's Fund Insurance Co. office at Rocky Point walked into a cafeteria at lunch time and shot five company supervisors, killing three of them.

Paul L. Calden, 33, fled the scene and took his own life later that day with a revolver at Cliff Stephens Park in Clearwater where he often played Frisbee golf.

Soon after Thursday's shootings at the Radisson, staffers, such as Dana Hagerman, streamed in for work. She had no idea about the shootings until she saw the mob of reporters and emergency workers.

"So that means George was in there? And Sam? Did any of the managers get hurt?" she asked, breaking into tears. "Oh, my God, this is just awful."

Meanwhile, guests, many barefoot and in T-shirts, wandered teary-eyed and visibly shaken. They were told it would be two hours before they could get to their rooms.

Thursday evening, relatives and family members of the victims walked out of the hotel crying and holding on to one another.

One woman wailed over and over, "Why Lord, why?"

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