By Arelis R. Hernández
ORLANDO, Fla. — As a bank manager, Jonathan Scott Pine knew success. But he had a feeling of helplessness. Rapists, thieves and killers were out there, and he could do nothing about it.
So Pine switched careers and became a deputy with the Orange County Sheriff's Office.
The desire to stop wrongdoing is why Pine was trying to chase down vehicle-burglary suspect Benjamin Holtermann, who fired the bullet that ended the 34-year-old's life, and then he took his own.
On Wednesday a judge denied bond to Erica Shantell Pugh, Holtermann's girlfriend, who was left behind to answer for the crimes that could label her a cop killer.
Groomed To Be Leader
Pine knew becoming a law enforcer would mean taking a pay cut, according to his personnel record provided by the Sheriff's Office.
Out of college, he starting working at a regional bank as a senior credit manager, negotiating loan approvals and managing large accounts. The economic downturn in 2008 put Pine under stress, but he was "steadfast," a friend, Louis Basenese, wrote in a reference letter for Pine.
He was doing well, held a master's in business administration and bought two homes in Orange County.
But Pine was unsatisfied. Neighbors in law enforcement encouraged him to think about a career in the field. He applied to the FBI in Tampa and to Orlando police, remarking on his application that "being happy going to work every day is more important to me than money." He aspired to become a detective.
Both agencies declined to hire him, but that didn't dissuade Pine. Friends and co-workers recommended the father of three for a job in the Sheriff's Office, praising his work ethic, integrity and moral character.
Basenese attended First Baptist Orlando with Pine and become close friends during six years.
"[Pine] is an upstanding, committed husband, father, friend and member of our community," he wrote.
Once hired, Pine impressed his supervisors who, through time, saw a leader in him.
But they encouraged him to take on more responsibility and initiate investigations.
On the night shift Monday, Pine wanted to help find the vehicle burglar who was making residents in southwest Orange County nervous, the Sheriff's Office said.
According to arrest affidavits, two people — later identified as Pugh and Holtermann — had been opening the doors of vehicles parked in driveways at the Courtleigh Park subdivision late Monday.
When neighbors confronted the couple, Holtermann took off running and Pugh sped away in a stolen Honda, sheriff's reports said.
A little past midnight, Pine saw the suspect near Westminster Abbey Boulevard, chased Holtermann and was shot dead. Moments earlier, deputies had stopped the fleeing vehicle and arrested Pugh.
Orange County detectives think Pugh, originally from Maryland's Eastern Shore, played a crucial role in the crimes and circumstances this week that led to Pine's shooting death.
Deputies found Pugh in the same vehicle used in a Friday armed robbery. She confessed that she and Holtermann robbed a man at gunpoint during a drug buy, according to an arrest report.
After hours of questioning, Pugh was handcuffed and escorted to the jail facing charges of grand theft auto and burglary, aggravated assault and armed robbery.
Detectives are still trying to find answers to crucial questions: Where did the gun come from? How complicit was Pugh in Holtermann's crimes? Were her actions responsible for Pine's slaying?
The Orange-Osceola State Attorney's Office would not say whether it will pursue murder charges against Pugh. But it seems likely under Florida's felony-murder law, said Orlando defense attorney Richard Hornsby.
"There's not much doubt, I would think," he said.
The law allows a person to be charged with murder for a death resulting from a felony; Pugh confessed to acting as a lookout during a vehicle burglary that led to the shooting, authorities say.
However, the time delay between the burglary and the shooting — about an hour, according to witnesses and Sheriff's Office reports — could complicate a murder prosecution, Hornsby said.
"She definitely has some defenses, based upon the time gap," Hornsby said.
Troubled Past, Uncertain Future
Pugh went from high-school cheerleader to drifter to Orange County inmate in just a few years.
Standing before a judge Wednesday, Pugh wrung her hands and breathed deeply as the list of charges were read and her chance of receiving bond dwindled.
County Judge Jerry Brewer set a bond for three of the four charges — totaling $175,000 — but when he reached the charge of robbery with a firearm, he ordered Pugh to remain in jail.
She also presented a flight risk because Pugh has no known ties to the region. It is unclear how Pugh ended up in Central Florida, but her troubles started in Maryland, a friend told the Orlando Sentinel.
Lacey Wagner grew up in foster care and met Pugh at 13 when the girl began spending weekend "respites" with her at a foster home.
They both received counseling and therapy from the Maple Shade Youth & Family Services, an outpatient mental-health clinic specializing in treating children with behavioral and mental-health disorders.
"She had an unhappy childhood," said Wagner, explaining that Pugh and her stepfather had often disagreed.
"I never knew her to be troubled, but she was teased a lot. We taught her to defend herself, telling her, 'Don't you let people pick on you,'" said Wagner, who last saw Pugh four months ago.
She said the charges against her are out of character.
"Oh, my God. Anybody who knows Erica knows that's not Erica. She was always a nice girl. She was a good kid."
It is unknown how long Pugh struggled, but she eventually attended Del Mar High School and joined the junior-varsity-cheerleading squad. Whether she graduated is unclear, but at some point she began a relationship with Holtermann.
Chaos soon re-entered her life. In May, Maryland authorities issued a warrant for Pugh's arrest, authorities said.
In Central Florida, Pugh was accused of shoplifting at Florida Mall and having marijuana in her purse, records show. She gave arresting officers the alias Mariame Sidibe, an Feb. 5 arrest report said.
She's now in the Orange County Jail, waiting to hear whether she will charged in Pine's slaying.
We cannot thank the community enough for all the love and support we have felt during this extremely difficult time. So much was lost yesterday, February 11, 2014, a loving husband, devoted father, caring son, fun-loving friend and a hero to this community. We truly wish each and every one of you could have known Scott. He was kind, strong, athletic, caring and involved. He was an amazing man! He loved God, his family and his friends and had his priorities in order. He meant the world to his family and will be immensely missed.
Copyright 2014 The Orlando Sentinel
McClatchy-Tribune News Service