By Tamara Lush/The Associated Press
LEALMAN, Fla. — It wasn’t that long ago that Anthony Giancola was considered one of Tampa’s top young educators, consistently receiving great reviews from superiors and affection from students who called him “Mr. G.” He focused on special-needs children and helped expand a program that allowed teens to train dogs to help disabled people.
By Saturday he was in jail, being held without bond, accused of a crime spree that killed two and injured nine. Authorities say over a two and a half hours Friday, he stabbed four people at a group home for the hearing impaired, rammed his car into a group of people, tried to run over a boy on a bike and then assaulted a couple who ran a motel.
“This is the worst of the worst here because this appears to be a random crime,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. “There’s no nexus . no connection between the suspect and the victims as we know it.”
Detectives have not given a motive for why Giancola went on a rampage, though the sheriff said Giancola told his mother after the rampage: “You’ll be very proud of me, I just killed 10 drug dealers.”
It’s also something of a mystery why Giancola’s once-successful life took a downward spiral, though a series of events — including the crack cocaine arrest that ended his career — offers some clues.
He started teaching at a middle school in Tampa in 1991. By 2006, Giancola was in charge of the Dorothy Thomas Exceptional Center in Tampa, a K-12 school for at-risk kids, after working with special-needs kids at other schools. There, he expanded a program called Kids and Canines and proudly sung the praises of a teacher who started the program and won a national award for her work.
He was promoted that summer to principal of Van Buren Middle, also within the Hillsborough School District. Other educators knew that he had some personal problems; he had taken a leave of absence for three months earlier in his career to manage some obesity issues. Many probably didn’t know that he had filed for bankruptcy in 1990.
It was December 2006 when Giancola did something that would set his downfall in motion: That’s when he first tried crack cocaine. In February 2007, he was arrested for buying $20 of crack from an undercover police officer during the school day in his office at Van Buren. Giancola eventually pleaded guilty to purchasing crack cocaine, possessing crack cocaine and possessing marijuana. Court records show he was sentenced to a year in jail and three years of probation. He told officers that he had spent hundreds of dollars a day on crack.
After his arrest, Giancola spoke with reporters outside the jail. He was forthcoming about his problems.
“I know I’ve disappointed a lot of people,” he said at the time. “I need to get my life together. And then maybe from that, other people will learn not to make the mistakes I’ve made.”
Despite serving time in jail, he didn’t get his life together.
He and his wife divorced in 2009.
In 2010, he was arrested again, while sitting in his car at 3 a.m. He was charged with violating his probation, prowling and loitering. Officers found a large butcher knife at his feet.
Then came Friday. Authorities have given this account:
The crime spree began shortly before 10:45 a.m. in Lealman, a small city in Pinellas County, about 20 miles west of Tampa.
Giancola went to a group home for the hearing impaired and stabbed four people. Justin Lee Vand, 27, died at the scene, and Mary Anne Allis, 59, died at a nearby hospital. Injured were Danielle Whitney Gilbert, 25, and Janice Denise Rhoden, 44. Of the two wounded, one person was reported to be in serious condition. A child who lived there was not home at the time, said neighbors, who were 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 (anything) this drastic.”
Shortly afterward, Giancola went to the Kenvins Motel in the nearby city of Pinellas Park, where he used a hammer to attack the married couple who own the motel. Kanu and Indiranden Patel, both 57, were taken to a nearby hospital. The husband is in critical condition.
Around 11:30 a.m., Giancola pulled up in front of a house in Pinellas Park and asked residents where he could find women. The residents told him to go away, and Giancola drove away angry. He soon returned and crashed his car into their porch, injuring three women and one man. The women were taken to a nearby hospital, but the man refused treatment.
A witness jotted down the license plate of Giancola’s maroon Ford sedan.
Giancola’s vehicle also struck a 13-year-old boy on a bike. The boy’s injuries were minor.
The boy, Kole Price, told local media that he was pedaling home after fishing that morning with his grandfather. The boy alleged that after the vehicle hit him, the driver intentionally ran into him again. The car backed up again and the boy hid behind a telephone pole and a Buddhist shrine that had been erected on the roadside.
“I think that guy was a nut job and he was like messed up or something,” the boy told WTVT-TV in Tampa.
Officers said Giancola’s mother and sister picked him up as he sat in his idling Ford outside the Egg Platter restaurant. They took him home, but he didn’t stay, so they called deputies.
By that time, officers had spoken with victims who were able to communicate and had pieced together the name of the suspect, Barreda said. A police dog tracked Giancola to near a storage facility and that’s where he was arrested.
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