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Man shot dead attacking neighbor

Robert J. Metz made it a point to know most everyone in his neighborhood, beeping his car horn whenever he drove by anyone who was outside.

If somebody was building something, the 47-year-old construction worker was there to offer advice and often lend a hand.

But his happy-go-lucky demeanor masked a mental illness that was slowly consuming Metz, relatives say.

Maria Pittaras, 28, was something of an enigma in the neighborhood. She moved to the Turtle Lakes subdivision at the Pasco- Hillsborough counties line about a year ago, just around the corner from Metz and his wife, Carolyn, Pittaras' father recalls.

Neighbors didn't see her outside much; she did most of her real estate-related work from home. She kept her yard immaculate and occasionally entertained friends with outdoor barbecues, neighbors say.

Pittaras and Metz weren't friends, but their worlds collided early Wednesday morning. Pasco County sheriff's deputies say Metz donned a mask and crept into the woman's bedroom, awakening her with a knife to her throat.

She managed to grab her gun from her nightstand and shot the intruder; he died almost instantly. Sheriff's officials later determined the shooting was in self-defense and won't bring charges.

The violent episode, the first of its kind there, has divided a neighborhood already grappling with increasing property crimes. But the young woman's father feels no ambivalence.

``I gave her that gun for protection. She is a good girl,'' said Spiros Pittaras of Palm Harbor. ``She feels terrible about this. That man's mental problems are finished ... hers are just beginning.''

SOMETIME BEFORE 2 a.m., Metz donned a dark mask and gloves, grabbed a knife and crawled into his neighbor's home through a window, sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll said.

Metz crept into the bedroom as the woman slept, jumped on top of her and held the knife to her throat. She grabbed her .38-caliber pistol and fired two shots, striking Metz in the neck, Doll said.

Somewhere around that time, Carolyn Metz awoke with a start and found herself alone in bed. She looked around the house, then wandered outside, relatives say. When she saw the sheriff's patrol cars, she knew something was terribly wrong. More than an hour later, she learned her husband was dead.

Those closest to Robert Metz say they witnessed his gradual slide into a nightmare of manic depression over the last few weeks. They watched helplessly as he stopped taking his medication and his personality changed. Relatives, who didn't want to be identified in the newspaper, said he likely was in the grips of his mental illness when he went into Pittaras' home.

Still, many neighbors find that explanation hard to believe.

``Why would a married man with kids pick that particular house?'' Maurice Sanders asked. ``There has to be more to it than anyone is saying. He was the nicest guy in the world and wouldn't hurt anyone. Maybe he was just trying to scare her.''

Others say Pittaras did the right thing in shooting Metz.

``I'm shocked something like this happened in our neighborhood,'' said Steve Bridges. ``It just goes to show that you never really know people. If you enter someone else's house in the middle of the night, you are definitely taking your life into your own hands.''

Metz's family, which includes two grown children who live out of state, gathered at his home Wednesday to share in their grief.

Pittaras also is struggling to come to terms with the shooting, her father said.

``She's a big girl and she will have to decide if she wants to go back to that house,'' he said. ``This is a terrible thing to have happened. Anyone, especially women, should understand why she had to do what she did.''

Candace J. Samolinski can be reached at or (813) 948-4215

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