2 dead, 9 injured in crime spree - WFLA News Channel 8

2 dead, 9 injured in crime spree

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By Ray Reyes, Josh Green

He once was the principal at Van Buren Middle School, where he earned a reputation for helping children believe in themselves.

But that reputation was irrevocably shattered when Anthony Giancola, whom students affectionately called "Mr. G," developed a $300-a-week crack cocaine habit. In 2007, Giancola was led off the Van Buren campus in handcuffs after he bought a $20 crack rock from an undercover Tampa police officer while in his principal's office.

Giancola was sentenced to 364 days in jail and vowed to turn his life around.

It was a promise police say he couldn't keep.

On Friday, the former Hillsborough County principal was accused of going on a bizarre, violent rampage in Pinellas that left two people dead and nine others injured.

In the course of an hour, Giancola stabbed four people, killing two, in a Lealman group home for the hearing impaired, bludgeoned two owners of a Pinellas Park hotel with a hammer and hit four pedestrians and a teenager on a bicycle in a Lealman neighborhood, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Giancola was "apparently high on drugs."

"This is the worst of the worst here because this appears to be a random crime," Gualtieri said. "There's no nexus … no connection between the suspect and the victims as we know it."

The mayhem started 10:48 a.m. Friday when deputies were called to the group home at 5100 35th Way N. in Lealman. Justin Lee Vandenburgh, 27, was found dead at the home and Mary Anne Allis, 29, later died after she was taken to a hospital. Danielle Whitney Gilbert, 25, and Janice Denise Rhoden, 43, were taken to Bayfront Medical Center with non-life threatening injuries. All four were stabbed multiple times, detectives said.

"He used a big knife," Gualtieri said. "A huge knife."

A child who lived there was not home at the time, said neighbors stunned by the day's events.

"It's crazy," said Ken Seidl, 52, who lives down the street from the group home. "There's always problems in this neighborhood, drugs, prostitution. But never nothing this drastic."

Giancola then went to the Kenvin's Motel, 6801 Haines Road, in Pinellas Park and broke in, detectives said. Motel owner Kanu Patel and his wife, Indiranden, both 57, suffered head injuries when Giancola beat them with a hammer, Pinellas Park police said.

Kanu Patel was listed in critical condition at a local hospital Friday night.

At 11:40 a.m., Giancola was seen parking his red, 2005 Ford 500 Limited at the HCF Food Discount Store, 5705-B 58th Ave. N., the Florida Highway Patrol reported . When he backed out of the parking lot, he hit a wooden pole and then drove across the street, where he talked to several people hanging out on a duplex's front porch.

"This dude pulled up, seemed a bit drunk and was asking if the women we were with were down to party," said Cory Winter, 18, who was part of the group. "I said, 'No, they're all married.' "

Giancola cursed at the group and sped away, Winter said.

But Giancola then turned the car around and rammed it straight into the duplex's porch, hitting a man and three women.

The highway patrol said after the Ford was plowed through the porch and driven off, a 13-year-old boy just east of U.S. 19 was hit by the car. The women were being treated at Bayfront Medical Center, the man and boy were treated at the scene.

The highway patrol did not release the name of the crash victims Friday.

After the hit-and-run crashes, Giancola went to the Egg Platter, across the street from Kenvin's Motel, and parked the Ford. Police said Giancola was spattered with blood when two women, one of them his mother, pulled up in a white pickup, put him inside and drove away.

Gualtieri said the women brought Giancola to his mother's house, but he wandered off. His mother then called the sheriff's office, Gualtieri said.

Pinellas Park detectives and police dogs tracked Giancola to Kenneth City, where he was hiding in brush near his mother's house.

He was arrested at 1:06 p.m., and charged with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder in connection to the stabbing at the group home. He was booked at Pinellas County Jail late Friday.

The sheriff's office said the highway patrol was investigating the hit-and-run, and Pinellas Park police were investigating the motel attack.

Giancola was named Van Buren principal in 2006. A year later, Van Buren was listed on the state Department of Education's list of 75 most-improved middle schools.

He has a degree in physical education and a master's degree in the education of emotionally handicapped students. He has been credited for helping children believe in themselves.

But marital problems led to a $300- to $400-a-day crack cocaine habit, Giancola told police after his drug arrest at the school.

"I liked the fact it didn't make me worry about all the stuff that I was worried about," Giancola told police. "Actually, it kept me up and it was not a bad up. And then it just got worse and worse and worse."

After he was sentenced to a year in jail, Giancola said he would follow the advice he gave to thousands of students over his 16 years as an educator.

"I've always told my students the same thing when they got into trouble," Giancola said. "Accept responsibility for your actions, deal with the consequences in a respectful manner, and then move on and don't make the same mistake again."

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