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Friday, Jul 25, 2014

Man who mistook body for prank fired

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Published:   |   Updated: April 3, 2014 at 07:25 PM

ST. PETERSBURG — A front desk clerk who mistook the body of a 96-year-old woman for a mannequin before arranging to have the corpse dumped into a trash bin Thursday has been fired.

“He is no longer with us,” said Sheryl Case, the office manager at Peterborough apartments, a 16-story subsidized building in downtown St. Petersburg that is reserved for people ages 62 and above.

The dead woman’s identity is expected to be released Friday. St. Petersburg detectives emailed all the pertinent information to the law enforcement agency in England that patrols the neighborhood in which a relative is said to live.

A resident of the building, the woman hoisted herself over a balcony wall with the help of a stool before plummeting from her 16th floor apartment to the parking lot, police said. A suicide note was left behind.

The front desk clerk, Ronald Benjamin, 61, who has worked at the building for nine years, went out for a smoke at 4:30 a.m. and saw the body in the parking lot, but thought it was a mannequin placed there as part of an April Fool’s Day prank, police said.

When his relief came at 6 a.m., she told him she thought it was a body, but he maintained it was a mannequin, police have said. It was decided that if it were a mannequin, it had to be taken out of the parking lot and put in a trash bin.

Benjamin enlisted the help of a woman and her teenage son who were delivering newspapers to help him dispose of the body.

It was only after a maintenance worker showed up at 8 a.m. and looked into the dumpster — and recognized it as a body — that authorities were called.

Reached at his St. Petersburg rental apartment, Benjamin said through a co-worker he did not want to come outside to comment because he had become despondent, the co-worker, Mark Hill, said.

“He’s in there with his little dog,” Hill said.

Hill said Benjamin told him he thought someone from one of the neighboring bars had left the mannequin as part of an April Fool’s Day prank, and Hill said he himself had played pranks on Benjamin in the past.

Ashley L. Marshall, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, said the state agency does not monitor the building, which she said is neither an independent living facility, nursing facility, assisted living facility or a continuing care retirement.

Jimmy Wright, 73, a front desk clerk who works weekends, said there is a system in place at the building where employees will physically check on residents if they fail on a particular day to dial into a special monitoring system.

Wright knew the dead woman.

“She hasn’t been coming down for the last few weeks,” Wright said. “She didn’t come down to mingle with the residents,”

sthompson@tampatrib.com.

(727) 215-6504

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