4 Dead, 2 Deputies Hurt In Tampa Shooting
TAMPA - Behind the wheel of his red pickup with a .45-caliber handgun at his side, Jorge Orlando Bello Garcia cruised back and forth in front of his estranged wife's Carrollwood home. When he finally went inside, his rage fueled a shooting spree that eventually left four people dead and two Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies recovering from gunshot wounds at St. Joseph's Hospital. "I heard four or five shots," neighbor John Mullins said. "Then I heard someone say, 'George, you shot me,' and then another shot." Detectives don't yet fully understand happened Saturday morning inside the house at 11220 Elmfield Drive, Sheriff David Gee said."They will piece it together and work backwards to see how it happened," he said. What they do know is that shortly before 9:25 a.m., the 54-year-old, also known as George Bello, parked his truck in front of a neighbor's house. He walked to the rental home that up until about a month ago he had shared with his wife, Gina Marie Lamantia-Bello, 44. After entering through an open garage door, he went to an enclosed back porch, where he shot and killed his wife and two others. One of the victims was a captain with Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, Chris Artigas, 45, and the other was family friend Regina Coffaro, 44. After hearing the gunfire, Mullins' wife, Vernetta, saw Bello walk out of the house carrying a gun covered by a white towel. He sped away in his pickup as she called 911 to describe Bello and the truck. Deputies confronted Bello about a half-mile away at the intersection of Linebaugh Avenue and Henderson Road, where a shootout erupted. Three deputies ordered Bello out of his truck, but he opened a sliding rear window and fired at a deputy's cruiser, sheriff's spokesman J.D. Callaway said. The deputies fired back, and Bello opened his passenger door and continued firing. Deputy Arturo "Art" Lence, 53, was hit in the lower torso. The bullet exited through his back, and he fell to the ground. Deputy Raymond Wilson, 56, was hit in the left forearm and crawled to a ditch on the west side of the road for safety. Bello walked over to Wilson and tried to wrestle the deputy's firearm from him, Callaway said. That's when Deputy Malachi McCoy ran up and shot the gunman in the head, killing him, Callaway said. When the bullets were counted, investigators said deputies had fired more than 50 rounds. They think Bello was hit multiple times before McCoy fired the fatal shot. Deputies believe Bello fired at least 13 shots, Callaway said. "He was just impervious to their shooting," said witness Mark Vennett, 49, of Tampa. "He was like a crazed animal." Back at the Carrollwood home, investigators found the three victims. Bello's wife and Artigas were dead. Coffaro was in critical condition. She was rushed to St. Joseph's, where she later died. "He went there for the sole intent to kill his estranged wife, and found the fire captain there and a family friend," Callaway said. Deputies Shot Bello carried out a frightening battle with deputies. Deputy Wilson had "a large section of his arm shot away," Gee said. Wilson was released from the hospital by Saturday afternoon and was recovering at home in Odessa. He joined the agency in December 1981. The sheriff said the suspect deliberately attacked Wilson. "He was apparently intent on murdering him," Gee said. "He actually got out of his pickup truck and physically attacked him. ... The [other] deputy came up and was able to end the assault. It was a life-and-death struggle." Deputy Lence was reported in fair condition after surgery, but he could be in the hospital for a week or more, Gee said. Lence joined the agency in April 1991. Lence was involved in a similar shootout in August when a 46-year-old suicidal man fired a shotgun at deputies in Citrus Park. The gunman in that incident also died. The gravity of Saturday's incident is wearing on an agency that has seen other deputies wounded and one killed in the last year. "It's a tough time," Gee said. "Sadly, we've gone through this before - just a year ago. I'm not saying you get used to it, but we'll get through it." Sheriff's Sgt. Ron Harrison was shot and killed Aug. 15 by a gunman in Brandon. His killer, Michael Phillips, 23, was killed hours later at his mother's home after a standoff with deputies. Several deputies visited the wounded Saturday at St. Joseph's Hospital. Mark Barnwell of the critical incident response team has known Wilson for 22 years. "Ray's great people," Barnwell said. "A father figure." 'Outstanding Firefighter' At Artigas' Cadiz Street home, dozens of people gathered in the front yard to pay their respects to the fallen fire captain. Firefighters embraced, many with tears in their eyes. "He was a fireman's fireman," said Fire Rescue Chief of Operations Bill Singleton, who knew Artigas for 12 years. "Just helping people - that's why we do it." Singleton said Artigas worked at the Westchase fire station. George Sucarichi, president of the county firefighters union, said his brothers were hurting with the news. "We're going to love him," he said. "And we're going to miss him." Fire Rescue Chief Bill Nesmith said Artigas joined the department 23 years ago and is survived by a wife and three children. "This is a very unfortunate situation," Nesmith said. "We're all saddened at Hillsborough County Fire Rescue with this loss." Blessed with a good singing voice, Artigas sang professionally at local clubs, Nesmith said. According to published reports, Artigas was also a member of Florida Task Force 3, an emergency response team made up of Bay area firefighters. The unit was deployed for search and rescue following hurricane Katrina. Nesmith said he didn't know why Artigas was at the Elmfield Drive home. "He was off duty," Nesmith said. "I'm not sure what he was doing at the house.'' Fire Rescue Capt. Derrik Ryan said a training exercise for paramedics was under way behind Fire Station No. 6, about a half-block from the intersection of Henderson and Linebaugh, when the gunfire erupted. The paramedics dropped to the ground and stayed down for about 10 minutes. They heard on a radio that two deputies were down and went into the station to get medical equipment. The deputies were treated in the parking lot. "Anytime that you can bring a patient to a paramedic that quick, I think the deputies were lucky," Ryan said. "Even though we lost one of our own, I think we're all lucky. I've been here for 22 years. I'm still shaking internally. This is a first for me." Another victim also left behind several family members. Coffaro was studying to be a masseuse, said her aunt, Ida Noges. She is survived by three children and her mother. "She has had no problems," Noges said. "This is the [last] thing that I would have expected." The family declined further comment. Witnesses Take Cover Motorist Roberta Cioci was near Linebaugh and Henderson when the shots rang out. "I just heard a bunch of loud pops," Cioci said. "I heard at least 15 shots." Devile Patel and her husband, Chetan Patel, run a convenience store on the corner of Henderson and Linebaugh and were inside tending to customers when they heard shots and people began running into the store shouting, "Get down! Get down!" Devile Patel said. "One lady said a bullet went over her head and hit the building," she said. The Patels and eight other people stayed on the floor for about five minutes while more shots were fired. Vennett, who watched the shootout unfold, said he was driving west on Linebaugh when he saw a patrol car do a rapid U-turn and stop. A deputy got out and exchanged fire with a man in a red pickup less than 100 yards north of the intersection with Henderson, Vennett said. "I got out of my truck and got down behind it," he said. "There were bullets flying. I called my wife and son and they heard the shooting. That's how close we were." The shooter got out of his truck and headed for one of the deputies. They struggled and it appeared as if the deputy went down to the ground first. "I thought he'd been killed," Vennett said. "It was pretty upsetting to see." The gunman dropped to the ground a second later after being shot by another deputy, he said. Vennett saw the first deputy get up off the ground. Signs Of Turmoil The Bellos were married June 8, 1994. According to their marriage license, he was born in Cuba and she was born in Maryland. It was the first marriage for both. Court records show George Bello was a defendant in a foreclosure case involving a home he owned on Paris Street in Town 'N Country. Records show that Lamantia-Bello lived at that home for several years. Vernetta Mullins said she thinks the Bellos separated about a month ago. Both she and her husband said they heard shouting matches coming from the Elmfield Drive house at various times in the days leading up to the shooting. Vernetta Mullins said she had seen children picked up and dropped off at the home, but she did not know if they were there Saturday morning. She described the suspect as strange. He would often approach her or her husband if they were outside, talking about his anger at the government and his financial difficulties. Marvin Kinsler, who lives near the Elmfield Drive home, said he chatted with the suspect before about cars, motorcycles and dogs. He said the family owns a pit bull. "I'm amazed," Kinsler said. "I don't know who exactly did what, but I'm shocked because I live here. ... What would you think, if it was right next to your house?" Neighbor Ed Warwick said he has spoken to a man living in the home named George, who has a wife and two sons. Warwick said the man told him that he owns a home that is being renovated in Town 'N Country and that he was renting the home on Elmfield while that project is being completed. The man told Warwick he owned several guns but that a lot were stolen during a burglary. Another neighbor, Connie Morris, was walking with her two young grandchildren when she heard two shots and later saw someone being carried out on a stretcher. "Nothing usually happens in this neighborhood," she said. "It's usually very quiet. This is extreme."
Reporters Ellen Gedalius, Billy Townsend, Josh Poltilove and Carlos Moncada contributed to this report. Reporter Mike Wells can be reached at (813) 259-7839 or [email protected]