VENICE, Fla. (WFLA) — Detectives say a convicted felon has been arrested for beating a woman to death at the Venice hotel she worked at in “one of the most egregious recent crimes” Sarasota County has seen.
The sheriff’s office initially started investigating the incident as an aggravated battery on Tuesday. Deputies were called to the Rodeway Inn on South Tamiami Trail just after 10:30 a.m. for a report of an unconscious woman.
When they got to the scene, deputies learned witnesses had found a woman severely battered and bruised in a hotel room. The woman was taken to the hospital where deputies say she later died.
Shortly after they responded to the hotel, deputies were notified of a “suspicious person” – later identified as 30-year-old Stephen Havrilka – acting erratically near Alligator Drive and South Tamiami Trail.
“He was literally speaking in tongues, acting very erratic, combative and was clearly under the influence of narcotics or some type of stimulant,” Sarasota County Sheriff Kurt Hoffman said.
According to Hoffman, it took five deputies to take Havrilka into custody under the state’s Marchman Act that allows someone to be taken into custody if they’re abusing drugs or alcohol and appears to be a danger to themselves or others. Havrilka was taken to the hospital for observation.
Sheriff Hoffman said detectives reviewed surveillance video from the hotel that showed Havrilka enter the hotel room where the victim was found. Management at the hotel told the sheriff’s office that Havrilka had been staying in a room at the hotel for six days. Detectives then searched that room and, according to the sheriff, found evidence from the aggravated battery.
Hoffman said Havrilka was uncooperative. Detectives determined he did not know the victim, later identified by family as Tina Strader, according to the sheriff.
“I can only imagine he may have spent his days observing her at the Rodeway Inn where she was employed and he was staying,” Hoffman said.
During his news conference, Hoffman said it was the Strader’s husband, Gerald, who found her beaten in the hotel. An arrest affidavit shows he tried to text his wife several times but didn’t get an answer, so he went to the hotel to check on her.
According to the affidavit, he found his wife unconscious and not breathing inside the room’s closet with a towel stuffed in her mouth. The husband yelled for help and another employee came into the room to perform CPR on the victim until emergency responders showed up.
“As a husband, I cannot imagine what this victim’s husband is going through right now,” he said. “Having tried to contact her, not been able to contact her and then he was the one who found her unresponsive in the hotel room.”
The arrest affidavit says crime scene personnel found blood on the bed in the room where Strader was found as well as on the towel that had been removed from her mouth. Strader had bruises on her head and face as well as defensive wounds on her hands, the affidavit says.
According to the sheriff’s office, Havrilka is a convicted felon who has 34 previous felony charges and 19 felony convictions, as well as 16 previous misdemeanor charges and 10 misdemeanor convictions. His previous crimes include vehicle burglary, criminal mischief, motor vehicle theft, battery, strangulation and battery of a person 65 years or older, the sheriff’s office said. The sheriff said Havrilka has served time in prison four separate times.
“There is no other way to describe Mr. Havrilka – he is an animal,” Sheriff Hoffman said. “He also has tattoos that depict his certain symbols of white supremacy…and his neo-Nazi alliances.”
The sheriff noted that, at this point in the investigation, they don’t believe this crime had any connection to white supremacy.
The sheriff called the crime one of the most egregious recent crimes the county has seen.
“As this investigation continues, we are committed to working with the state attorney’s office to see that this man is put away for the rest of his life,” he said.
According to Gerald Strader, Tina was the housekeeping manager and started working at the hotel in December of 2019. She was a mother of four, grandmother of two.