By Kameel Stanley, Times Staff Writer
Published Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Gov. Charlie Crist signed a death warrant Tuesday for a man convicted of killing a state wildlife officer 25 years ago near the Brooker Creek Preserve.
Martin E. Grossman, 44, is set to be executed at 6 p.m. Feb 16.
The New Port Richey man was sentenced to death for killing Margaret E. "Peggy" Park on Dec. 13, 1984.
Park was patrolling the area in northeast Pinellas County that night when she came upon a suspicious-looking van. Two teens were inside, and a struggle ensued after Park found a pistol in the vehicle. One of the teens, Grossman, smashed a flashlight over the 26-year-old officer's head 20 to 30 times.
Then he wrested her gun away and shot her in the head.
Park's mother, reached by phone Tuesday, said the family was not yet ready to comment.
Others who knew Park said she has had a lasting affect on the community.
Gary Morse, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, worked with Park on education programs.
"Peggy was not only a fine officer, but everyone liked her," he said Tuesday night. "We remember her fondly. There's still a lot of respect around here for her."
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Park decided when she was 12 that she wanted to be a ranger.
"It will never be a job," she told a reporter not long before she died, according to newspaper archives.
Park was born and raised in Ohio. An animal lover, she collected dogs, cats, gerbils and fish as a child. She got her bachelor's in natural resources and wildlife management from Ohio State University in 1981.
Shortly thereafter, she landed her first job — as a wildlife officer in Pinellas County.
With two dogs and two cats, she made her home in a mobile home park near Brooker Creek.
"She was doing what she wanted, and she was doing it very well," her mother, who shares the same name, told the St. Petersburg Times days after her daughter's death in 1984. "She was happy in her job. She blossomed when she came to Florida."
By the time Park encountered two Pasco County teenagers on that December night 25 years ago, she'd had two years of service at the agency behind her.
The petite woman, about 5 feet 4 and 115 pounds, also had earned a reputation as a staunch protector of the environment. The job's dangers didn't deter her.
The night she died, Park was patrolling the woods she loved when she came across Grossman.
The 19-year-old, who was on probation, and his friend had a stolen gun.
After Park discovered the weapon, Grossman begged Park not to turn him in.
As Park made her way back to her car to call in the report, Grossman, who was twice her size, attacked. Park got off a shot, but Grossman got the gun away from her. He left her body just north of a clump of oak trees near the preserve.
Grossman was arrested less than two weeks later and sentenced to death a year after that.
The other person with him that night, 17-year-old Thayne Taylor, was convicted of third-degree murder and served nearly three years in prison before being released into a supervised program.
If Grossman is executed, he will be the fourth person to die for a Pinellas County murder since the modern death penalty began in Florida in 1979. The last person to die for a Pinellas murder was Amos King in 2003.
Since 1979, 68 people have been executed in Florida. Currently, 391 people sit on the state's death row.
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Park's death spurred several memorials through the years.
A few years after her death, the county named a nature trail after her at John Chesnut Sr. Park in East Lake.
In 2007, a permanent stone marker was placed where she died. Park has no official grave. After she died, her ashes were scattered over an eagle's nest she helped protect.
Times researchers Shirl Kennedy and Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Kameel Stanley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8643.