LAND O’ LAKES — A 74-year-old woman was slain in her home early Monday morning and her 18-year-old grandson who lived with her faces a first degree murder charge, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office reported.
The grandson, Brandon Machetto, drove around for several hours with his grandmother’s body in the back of a Honda Odyssey mini-van before a deputy pulled him over about 10:15 a.m. Monday, Sheriff Chris Nocco said at a press conference.
The sheriff declined to reveal the cause of death for Sylvia Rosalie Schmitt of 21036 Little Magens Loop in the Paradise Lakes nudist community. Machetto was taken to the Land O’ Lakes Jail and charged with first degree murder. He was being held Tuesday morning under no bond.
Nocco said investigators were able to move quickly on the case because of a neighbor who happened to see Machetto outside and acting suspiciously about 5:30 a.m. Monday. The neighbor kept watching and saw Machetto put a body in his grandmother’s van and drive off. The body was wrapped up, but a foot was sticking out, Nocco said.
The neighbor called the sheriff’s office and deputies found blood inside the home.
“There were signs of a struggle inside the residence,” Detective Tim Harris said.
The sheriff’s office then put out a Silver Alert for the missing Schmitt, including information that her disappearance was suspicious and that she might be with her grandson.
A few hours later, Deputy Ricky Frisco spotted the van at the intersection of U.S. 41 and State Road 54, not far from Paradise Lakes.
Frisco said he put on his lights and siren to pull Machetto over, but the grandson kept driving south on U.S. 41, then began making the turns toward the entrance to Paradise Lakes.
Machetto drove slowly, never exceeding about 25 miles per hours, Frisco said. Machetto stopped briefly as he waited for the gate at the community entrance to open, then kept going, Frisco said.
Machetto finally stopped about 50 yards from the home where the slaying took place and that’s when Schmitt’s body was found, the sheriff said.
“There’s a lot of questions as to where he was going and why he came back in the area,” Nocco said.
Harris said Machetto had an arrest record as a juvenile, having been involved in burglaries and criminal mischief.
In 2012, sheriff’s deputies came to Schmitt’s home on a domestic disturbance call that involved her and her grandson, but the grandmother did not want to press charges, Harris said.
He said Schmitt had taken her grandson in to try to help him when his parents were no longer in the picture.
Ronnie Hall, Machetto’s former martial arts teacher, said Machetto was hospitalized with a brain injury about four or five years ago after someone hit him in the back of the head with a rock.
“He was never the same,” said Hall, who said he taught Machetto martial arts for about seven years. The last class was about a year ago, he said.
Machetto is more than 6-feet tall, but acts childlike because of the brain injury, Hall said. He described him as “very laid back” and said even when he trained at Hall’s martial arts school he was not an aggressive fighter.
Hall also disputed the sheriff’s office’s contention about Machetto’s parents not being around.
“The mother is in the picture,” Hall said.
He said she works full time and had put Machetto with his grandmother because she considered that a safe place for him. Hall said he has seen Machetto with his grandmother and never saw anything amiss.
“They were very close,” Hall said. “He never raised his voice to his grandmother.”