Three charged with beating Tampa men
By BRYAN GILMER
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 2, 1999
TARPON SPRINGS -- As each one's boyhood ended, the city celebrated them as heroes.
First, it was Mike who burst to the surface of Spring Bayou clutching the carved white Epiphany cross in 1993. Then Theo did it in 1998. Greek Orthodox boys dream of the moment from the time they are toddlers, and dozens compete each year in a holy ceremony to retrieve the cross tossed into the water.
Believers celebrate the boy who finds it as one chosen for God's blessing.
Now, at the beginning of their manhood, Michael Saroukos and Theofilos Mamouzelos find notoriety swirling around them again -- but this time it is markedly different.
They and their friend, Christopher Stamas, were arrested Wednesday night after an extraordinary episode of what investigators are calling road rage on a sleepy stretch of back road.
When it ended, two Tampa men lay on the ground bleeding, their skulls cracked by long-handled shovels, Pinellas County sheriffs investigators said.
Mamouzelos, 19, and Stamas, 18, stand charged with attempted murder. Saroukos, 23, is charged with aggravated battery, accused of kicking the victims.
Both victims were in serious condition Thursday at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, where they faced uncertain recoveries.
"Is he going to wake up?" wondered Alisha Collado, sister of 32-year-old Luis Collado, the most seriously hurt. "They don't know if he's ever going to wake up and know who we are."
Collado lies in a medically induced coma on a respirator. He has a blood clot on his brain.
Jody Daniel, 29, is breathing on his own, said Martee and Peter Capilli, his mother and stepfather. Each time he wakes up, he mumbles: "What happened to me? What's going on? Where am I?" they said.
Booking photos of the suspects showed two of them grinning, which offended Peter Capilli.
"Here are their mug shots with them laughing," he said. "I wish I could laugh too. That really hurt us."
Tarpon Springs residents who know the men charged struggled Thursday to accept the reports of the violence, especially when attached to the names of three "well-mannered" men from prominent, respected families.
"I think the violence is out of character," said former Tarpon Springs mayor Anita Protos. "I know them from church, Sunday school class, altar boys. I know their families. They come from very fine families, and it's a very sad situation at this point."
Saroukos' father, George, is known in the city for building boats, including the traditional Greek sponge-diving dinghies used in the Epiphany ceremony.
Stamas' father, George P. Stamas, is a successful local real estate developer.
The brawl apparently exploded out of a minor annoyance. Collado was driving his Chevrolet Blazer slowly on Anclote Road about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, looking for an address. Riding with him were his 11-year-old sister, Sarah Ryan, and three other men, all brothers -- Jody, James and Michael Daniel. All five are from Tampa. They intended to help a friend work on a boat.
But a truck driving behind theirs began honking as Collado slowed down repeatedly.
The groups of men began yelling at each other. Both vehicles pulled over. The men piled out, postured and, at some point, two of the Tarpon Springs men grabbed shovels from the bed of their truck, sheriff's investigators say.
Two of the Tampa men who were unhurt said their group was attacked suddenly. Michael Daniel said two men swung shovels, knocking Collado and Jody Daniel to the ground. A witness confirmed that account, adding that the men who fell were kicked as well.
But on Thursday, Mamouzelos' mother and Stamas' lawyer both used the term "mutual combat" to describe what went on.
"It might have been a mutual combat with Chris coming to the aid of one of the other boys," said Clearwater lawyer Douglas de Vlaming, who represents Stamas.
Saroukos' lawyer, Jeff Brown of Clearwater, said Saroukos defended himself after being grabbed by the throat but did not kick anyone.
"He never kicked anybody," Brown said. "He is not guilty and should not have been charged with an aggravated battery."
The three Tarpon Springs men were hauling some plants they had just dug up when the confrontation broke out, which is why there were shovels in the bed of the truck, de Vlaming said.
Saroukos was released Thursday on $40,000 bail, and de Vlaming said Stamas would post a $210,000 bond late Thursday. Mamouzelos' mother said the family cannot afford to post a $210,000 bond.
"He's very scared and very sorry," Barbara Mamouzelos said. "He's a good person. Our first thoughts are with the families of the boys who were hurt. And I know Theo feels that way too. He didn't mean to hurt anybody."
Tarpon Springs resident Dimitri Salivaras, 28, said the city's reputation has been damaged by the incident. "I think it looks bad for the city," he said. "I'm afraid people will think all Greeks are like that. We're not all angels, but we're not a violent people."