St. Pete desk clerk who mistakenly threw away body speaks

St. Pete desk clerk who mistakenly threw away body speaks

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For the last couple days Ronald Benjamin has sat alone, mainly, in his rocking chair thinking about how a mistake has changed his life so drastically.

“Pure hell,” he said in an exclusively television interview with News Channel 8 Thursday. “Pure hell.”

Next month, Benjamin would’ve celebrated his ninth year working at the Peterborough Apartment tower. But Wednesday, a smoke break at 4:30 in the morning changed everything.

A 96-year-old woman had put a stepstool up the window of her 16th floor apartment window and stepped off. In the darkness before dawn, Benjamin thought the body in the parking lot was a mannequin. April Fool’s Day had just ended about four hours earlier, and he wrote it off as a joke.

Eventually, when a newspaper delivery driver and her son were making their rounds, Benjamin asked for help getting, what he thought, was a mannequin into the dumpster. He left work at 6:00 a.m. and got the call.

“They called me back and said go back immediately. So I did. Then I find out it’s a real person. Ever since then I’ve been mortified, horrified,” Benjamin said. “That’s all I see in my mind now. That’s all I see. That’s all I see.”

A maintenance worker had discovered what was really in the dumpster and Benjamin learned then that his managers were going to fire him. He says they called it an “egregious mistake.”

“I’ve just been a mess since,” he said as he sighed. “I’ve called VA crisis line. I’m going to go over there and talk to somebody.”

The 61-year-old, who said he’s an Air Force veteran, has a lot of things going through his mind now, including how things could’ve been different.

“If I knew – thought for an instant – that is was a real person I would’ve run in that building and jumped on the phone, called the police, my manager … everybody and anybody that had anything to do with it,” he said. “I didn’t. I thought it was like a rubber doll with a Halloween mask. That’s what it looked like to me. Period. The other people that were there – they weren’t even sure it was a real person. They were right there.”

St. Petersburg Police, too, feel like it was a mistake so they are not charging anyone with a crime for what happened.

Dorothy Vaskelis, who has lived in the tower since last year, said she doesn’t feel anger or disgust toward Benjamin and understands how there was some confusion.

“It was an honest mistake,” she said outside the tower Thursday. “I ate Christmas dinner with this lady. We had a big Christmas dinner. She sat across from me and her face was rather leathery and she was really gaunt. She had long thin arms and legs.”

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