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One dead following Masaryktown home invasion

MASARYKTOWN - A man was slain inside his home Tuesday night and authorities said they think the killing was drug-related. Michael John Pfeifer, 27, of 174 Grand Ave. in Masaryktown, struggled with a group of home invaders and was fatally shot shortly after 11:40 p.m., according to the Hernando County Sheriff's Office. Deputies said three males were involved in the crime. None has been identified. Pfeifer's roommate, Cliff N. Kearney, 29, suffered minor injuries during the home invasion, said Cpl. Wendy McGinnis. He was not hospitalized.
When questioned by detectives, Kearney described one of the suspects as a skinny black male approximately 6 feet tall. He was wearing a black tank top, shiny gray basketball shorts and a dark blue ski mask with white trim around the eye and mouth cutouts, deputies said. A second suspect was described as a black male, about 5 feet 10 inches tall wearing a black tank top and black suede Puma athletic shoes with a white emblem. Kearney didn't see the third suspect, but heard him speaking, according to the sheriff's office. "After further investigation, detectives believe this was not a random act and the suspect(s) were possibly after narcotics and money," said Cpl. Wendy McGinnis, a sheriff's spokeswoman. Kearney told detectives he last saw the suspects flee the area heading north. Masaryktown is a rural community located seven miles south of Brooksville along U.S. 41. It's a short drive to Spring Lake Highway, which has direct access to Interstate 75, and the Suncoast Parkway. Sometime after 11 p.m. Tuesday, Catherine Power's dogs started barking incessantly. Power, 45, who lives off Stur Road across from Grand Avenue, turned on her outside light and noticed a car parked in the grass in front of an abandoned house at the intersection. She said the vehicle sped away moments after she turned on her light. It spooked her. "Having someone just sitting there isn't normal," she said. She told her friend and landlord, Daniel Beebe, about the suspicious vehicle. Both of them made sure their vehicle doors were locked before they went back to bed. Power also said she heard some rustling in the patch of woods across from her house, but assumed it was an animal. Beebe, who lives next door to Power, said he once had his vehicle stolen out of his driveway, but otherwise he feels safe living in the hushed, tucked-away community. "That's not something I normally ever do in my neighborhood," he said about his decision to lock his doors Tuesday night. Power said she returned to bed and woke up two hours later after her street was flooded with deputy cruisers and flashing lights. She woke up her neighbor a second time. She told deputies about the vehicle, but couldn't give a specific description because it was too dark. She guessed it was a newer-model sedan because it had a quiet engine. Power said she had noticed a lot of luxury cars – from Lincolns to Mercedes Benzes – arriving and leaving Pfeifer's house. She used to see Pfeifer and wave to him whenever she walked her dogs or rode her bicycle, but she mostly stayed away. She thought he looked suspicious. "You don't mess with those kinds of people," she said. "You wave, be polite and move on." Pfeifer has a history of drug arrests, according to court records. In August 2003, he was charged with a number of felony counts related to cocaine possession, but he was offered a pre-trial diversion program and avoided prison. He was arrested again on cocaine charges in March 2007, but those counts were dropped. His third Hernando arrest came in June 2009, at which time he was accused of growing and selling marijuana out of his home. He pleaded guilty on all charges and served eight months in jail. He had been employed as an air-conditioner technician for Simpson Air in Tampa. He leaves behind a son who is in pre-school. A relative answered the phone at Pfeifer's father's house in Spring Hill and told a reporter the family didn't want to comment. Joy Wick, 27, of Spring Hill, said she was shocked when she learned about her friend's death. She most recently saw him about six weeks earlier. "I never ever saw Mike without a smile on his face," said Wick. "That really stands out because everyone has a bad moment or a bad day, but from the time I met him, I never saw him upset. I never saw him feeling down. He was always happy." Other neighbors up and down Stur Road said they were stunned when they learned about the slaying. They said they never heard a gunshot or remembered seeing anything suspicious the previous night. The neighborhood mostly remains dark because of the dearth of street lights. One neighbor said she was prepared to call Progress Energy and ask for someone to trim the tree branches covering the street light behind her property. "I hate to see anything like this happen over here," Beebe said. "If it was a drug dealer who was killed, I'm glad they're out of the neighborhood … one way or another." Wick insisted Pfeifer was not mean-spirited, violent or dangerous. "I truly believe he was working his way out of that lifestyle," she said. "He always treated people with respect." It wasn't the first time a home invasion fatality took place in the community. In October 2006, a few blocks from Pfeifer's house, Robert Jardin entered the home of Patrick and Evelyn DePalma off Korbus Road and fatally stabbed them. Jardin was convicted a year ago and sentenced to life in prison. Several of Pfeifer's neighbors said they hadn't seen so many deputies in one place since the DePalma slayings. It invoked a lot of unwelcome memories, they said. Nonetheless, Masaryktown remains a desirable place for people who prefer to live in a calm, rural setting, said Beebe. "This is a quiet, peaceful place," he said. "You can get here what most people pay extra to get in a gated community."

Reporter Tony Holt can be reached at 352-544-5283 or [email protected]

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