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From The Tampa Tribune
ZEPHYRHILLS - Pasco County deputies continue their search for two men today after an elderly woman was kidnapped from her home, raped and dumped with her vehicle yesterday in a quarry off an isolated road, authorities said.
“We will not stop until we have these guys in jail and that there have been a number of really good leads in the case,” said Sheriff Bob White said today in a statement.
The victim was released from the hospital yesterday with bruises and a swollen shut left eye. She did not have any broken bones.
This community, a haven for retirees, has been on edge since March 1, when another elderly woman was reported beaten and raped in a home invasion.
The circumstances of the cases are similar: Both women were 68, home alone and living in mobile homes less than two miles apart. Investigators think the same two men were involved in both attacks, sheriff’s spokesman Doug Tobin said. In both cases, investigators said, two men broke into a mobile home, beat a woman, stole from her and then sexually assaulted her.
The most recent incident in Pasco comes days after a man was arrested on charges he raped a 78-year-old woman in her St. Petersburg condominium on March 12. He is suspected in two similar attacks in Pinellas County.
In the attack Tuesday in Zephyrhills, the woman was watching television between midnight and 1 a.m. when a noise startled her and two men appeared in her home.
They forced her into her minivan and while one drove, the other one raped her, authorities said. They stopped the van off Sixth Avenue, just east of Zephyrhills near the Otis Moody subdivision. The men pushed the minivan over a ledge into a steep quarry and threw her in after it. She landed 20 to 30 feet below in the water-filled ditch, Tobin said.
Somehow she crawled out of the pit and back to the road, where a passing motorist spotted her and called for help about 1:35 a.m.
“I just want to go home,” the woman told the 911 operator.
She was taken to a hospital. A rape exam was conducted in hopes of gaining DNA evidence.
As onlookers peered over the edge later Tuesday morning, a tow truck crew pulled the minivan out of the pit. The vehicle was impounded to collect evidence. Footprint casts near the ledge also were taken, Tobin said. “Forensic evidence is so important in these types of cases,” he said.
This latest attack shattered the otherwise peaceful atmosphere of Ramblewood mobile home park, a retirement community off U.S. 301 that advertises nickel bingo and ice cream socials at the community clubhouse. Authorities did not confirm that the victim lived in Ramblewood, but the case was the talk of the oak tree-shaded park Tuesday afternoon.
Out on the shuffleboard court, Ada Leak, 79, pointed to where the victim, a seasonal resident, lived. Leak didn’t know the woman, but the news rattled her.
“It still doesn’t matter if we knew her or not; she’s one of us,” Leak said. “I’m sorry that it happened here.”
The March 1 incident took place in a subdivision that is part of Winters Mobile Home Park, off State Road 54. In that case, a woman was dragged from her bedroom to the living room, raped by both men, beaten and kicked in the face as they left her home, authorities said.
In the weeks after the invasion, the community has been extra vigilant and wary of intruders, said Bob Winters, the park’s owner.
“Certainly, this has affected the retirement community as well as all of the community,” Winters said. “We’re a big family. It’s been a difficult time.”
Residents have stepped up their volunteer-driven community watch programs, and Winters has encouraged everyone to be more alert, he said.
The sheriff’s office has urged the community to report any suspicious activity.
In the meantime, White has pledged to devote more resources to these communities and has stepped up patrols, Tobin said.
“This is a No. 1 priority for us to solve,” he said. “We are outraged, and we want to get these men off the streets and away from the public.”
Tobin said the suspects’ descriptions in both incidents are similar. Tuesday’s attackers are described as black men clad in black hooded sweatshirts with their faces partially covered with some sort of cloth. One is about 5-foot-7. The other is 5-foot-10.
In the Otis Moody neighborhood Tuesday afternoon, lifelong Zephyrhills resident David Giles said not only was he mad about the attack, but he also was saddened. The quarry where the victim was tossed is not visible from the road. For someone to know it was there, they would have to be familiar with the area, he said.
“At one time, everybody knew everybody in this town,” he said. “Now it’s different.”
If anyone has information about the attacks, call Detective Mel Eakley at 1-800-854-2862, Ext. 5016.
Reporters Geoff Fox and Stephen Thompson contributed to this report. Reporter Lisa A. Davis can be reached at (727) 815-1083. Reporter Nicola M. White can be reached at (813) 779-4613.
This is just awful! And, to add insult to injury, this poor woman has to listen to herself being called “elderly” in the media.
There should be no mercy when they catch these guys.