ST. PETERSBURG — It was just about lunch time and Jerome Hopkins was on his way to wash up at the maintenance shed. The 56-year-old city worker was riding a green John Deere cart around Lake Maggiore Park.
That’s when Hopkins said he heard the moans. He said they came from a woman lying at the base of a cluster of thick tree trunks.
"Ma’am," he called out. "Do you need medical assistance?"
Nothing. He called out again, he said, and this time she moaned and raised a bloody leg. He dialed 911.
St. Petersburg police identified the woman found March 1 as Christie Lynn New, 43. The mother of one suffered "severe trauma," investigators said, and was taken to a hospital.
Police revealed the discovery of the injured woman on Tuesday and asked for the public’s help solving this case. She died at about 6 a.m. Wednesday.
Investigators are still trying to figure out what happened to New and who left her in the southeast corner of the park with life-threatening injuries.
She was found at 11:30 a.m. Hopkins believes she was left there sometime after 7:30 a.m. because he didn’t notice her when he made his morning round through the park, picking up trash.
Among the questions police are trying to answer: Why was she in St. Petersburg? Police believe New was visiting from South Florida.
Police said she was also seen Feb. 28 in the area around 54th Avenue N and Haines Road, which is about 8 or so miles away from the park where she was found.
Christie New was the youngest of five children. She came of age in Chambersburg, Penn., a small town north of the Pennsylvania-Maryland border, said her older sister Deanna New, 53, who lives in Birmingham, Ala.
Christie New became a stay-at-home mom, the sister said, splitting time with her family in homes they own in Key West and Morganton, N.C. She had been living in Key West for more than 20 years.
Christie New loved animals, and made it a habit of rescuing them, including dogs, cats, a potbelly pig, even possums. The sister said she owned horses in Ocala and was an equestrian, traveling all over the southeastern U.S. to compete in hunter/jumper competitions.
And Christie New also taught her 9-year-old daughter how to ride.
"It’s a passion they shared," Deanna New said.
Her sister and friend Christy Hamby both described Christie New as vivacious and energetic.
"She controlled a room when she walked in," her sister said.
"There was never a dull moment with Christie," said Hamby, who lives near Christie New’s North Carolina home and said the two had been friends for nearly seven years.
By Wednesday afternoon there were no signs of last week’s violence at Lake Maggiore Park. The crime scene tape had come down and a group of retired men played dominos in the shade on a covered picnic table, just like they always do, they said. Older kids pushed younger kids on the swings. A steady flow of pickup trucks kicked up dust as they visited a nearby city dump.
From underneath an aluminum awning on the front of a small cinder block shed, city worker Sylvester Stephens monitors the dump, where landscapers leave branches and trimmings. That’s where he was the morning of March 1.
Stephens, 78, said he saw nothing that day. He said he’s told his supervisors that a row of tall bushes that separates the dump from the park should be removed.
It blocks his view of the corner of the park where the woman was found. It’s also a safety concern for him, he said, because nobody in the park can see his office.
"I was here, but I couldn’t see anything," Stephens said. "If the place was clean, we could see."
Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or [email protected] Follow @ByJoshSolomon.