Suspect claims he has a gun; deputy shoots and kills him

(ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. ) -- Pinellas County sheriff's deputies responding to an alarm early Wednesday at the Opti-Mart business complex saw a man moving through a small storage building. They called out to him, but they say he wouldn't obey their orders.

"I have a gun," sheriff's officials say the man yelled. "I'm going to shoot you."

Then, they said, he reached into the waistband of his pants. Deputy Larry Cottrell thought the man was going to pull out a gun, sheriff's spokeswoman Marianne Pasha said.

Cottrell, a 19-year sheriff's veteran, shot the man twice with his Beretta 9mm handgun.

Michael Anthony Cabrera, 39, hit in the upper chest and stomach, was pronounced dead about 12:50 a.m. Pasha said deputies did not find a weapon on Cabrera.

Cabrera, who had an extensive arrest record dating back to 1980, was released from prison in September. He had stayed at several places since his release and had no permanent address.

Authorities don't know whether Cabrera was trying to steal something from the building - filled with tools and chemicals - or whether he was finding a place to escape the chilly weather as nearby employees suggested. But deputies thought it was a burglary in progress, Pasha said.

Sheriff's officials identified him Wednesday afternoon after notifying the first relative they could find - a brother serving time in an Iowa jail, Pasha said.

Cottrell, 42, was placed on administrative leave with pay pending an investigation by the Sheriff's Office and the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office.

No one was at the Opti-Mart business complex at 4301 35th St. N when the shooting occurred. About 90 people work in the company's four buildings making and selling glasses, but the last employees leave at about 11 p.m., company vice chairman Skip Payne said.

Employees at the companies in the industrial area tucked behind U.S. 19 N said they have had problems for years with homeless people sleeping on nearby railroad tracks, drug dealing and vandalism.

"They're always shooting people here," said Chuck Redding, who has owned an auto shop across the street from Opti-Mart for 15 years and says crime long has been a problem. "I would not walk down the street after 10 p.m. It's bad."

Ronald Jakubowski sleeps in a small white-and-green trailer to protect property at a nearby sandblasting business. "This sure wasn't worth losing your life over," he said.

Payne, whose father founded Opti-Mart in 1968, said the Sheriff's Office has a parking space and phone in the company parking lot so deputies could stop by 24 hours a day and fill out reports. The company does not employ security guards, but has an alarm with microphones and motion detectors.

Cottrell and two others - Deputy Raymond Reyes and Cpl. Rick Bennett - were called to Opti-Mart about 12:30 a.m. They noticed an air conditioner had been pushed through a window in the storage building, Pasha said.

While Bennett stayed on one side of the building, Reyes and Cottrell went to the front and then inside the building, where they saw Cabrera and told him to show his hands, she said.

Cabrera refused, keeping one hand wrapped in a shirt or cloth, Pasha said. He pushed a shelf of supplies on Reyes, who sprayed him with pepper spray, and turned toward Cottrell and threatened him, Pasha said. That's when Cottrell shot him.

Records show Cabrera had been arrested 16 times since 1980, primarily by sheriff's deputies and St. Petersburg and Tampa police. Charges include resisting arrest, aggravated battery on an officer, grand theft, armed burglary and several drug charges. Deputies found a crack pipe in his sock after the shooting.

(iSyndicate; St. Petersburg Times; Nov. 16, 2000) Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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