Suspect arrested after woman who was found severely beaten in Venice hotel dies from injuries

Stephen Havrilka of Venice charged with Homicide

Stephen Havrilka. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office has charged a 30-year-old Venice man with Homicide after he allegedly battered a woman severely and left her for dead in a hotel room closet, the department has announced.

Stephen Matthew Havrilka, of 5671 Stephens Road in Venice, was arrested at 11 a.m. on April 20, the Sheriff’s Office report shows. The unemployed man is being held without bond in the Sarasota County Jail, the Sheriff’s Office’s Corrections Division records said on April 21.

Deputies initially responded just after 10:30 a.m. on April 20 to the Rodeway Inn, located at 1710 S. Tamiami Trail in Venice, in regard to a call about a bleeding, unconscious woman, the Sheriff’s Office report said.

Deputies found that she was not breathing when they arrived on the scene, the report added. Rescue personnel treated her at the hotel before transporting her to Venice Regional Bayfront Health, the report said.

The victim was employed by the hotel, the news release said. Her family opted into Marsy’s Law, “which protects her identity from being publicly released.”

Members of the Sheriff’s Office Victim’s Assistance Unit have been on the scene since early Tuesday “and will continue to provide support to the victim’s family through the criminal justice process,” the release noted.

Timeline and arrest

The official report indicated that the victim’s husband had received a text from her at 8:49 a.m. on April 20. However, when he responded with a text at 8:51 a.m., he told detectives, he received no answer. He tried again at 9:44 a.m., the report continued, but that text also went unanswered.

The husband became worried, the report said, so he went to check on his wife. He found her inside a closet in the hotel room, the report added.

Another hotel employee, Ryan Wayman, responded to calls for help and assisted the husband in pulling the victim out of the closet, the report said. She had “a towel stuffed in her mouth,” so Wayman removed the towel and performed CPR until emergency medical technicians arrived, the report added.

“The victim had bruising on her head and face and defensive wounds on her hands,” the report said.

Less than five minutes after the initial call about the incident, the Sheriff’s Office news release noted, deputies responded to a call about a “suspicious white male” at the intersection of Alligator Drive and South Tamiami Trail, near Regions Bank. The caller described the man as approximately 30 and wearing jeans but no shirt.

This is the area around Aligator Drive and South Tamiami Trail in Venice. Image from Google Maps

Deputies found Havrilka near Regions Bank, the report noted. He “was acting erratic, speaking gibberish, and he started kneeling and praying on the ground,” the report pointed out. “He appeared to be under the influence of alcohol and/or narcotics,” the report said.

It took five deputies to place Havrilka into custody under the terms of the Marchman Act, a Florida Statute that allows law enforcement officers “to take someone into custody who is abusing drugs or alcohol and appears to be a danger to themselves or others,” the news release explained.

After Havrilka was taken to the Venice hospital for observation, he was identified there, the news release added.

When detectives at the hotel reviewed surveillance video, they saw Havrilka “enter the hotel room where the victim was discovered,” the news release said. He was wearing a light-colored tank top, jeans, black Nike shoes with white soles, and a black watch, the report added. Detectives noted the time was 8:50 a.m., the report pointed out.

Havrilka remained in the room until 9:04 a.m., the report continued. When he left, he was carrying a white towel and his shoes, the report added.

Then, at 9:12 a.m., the video showed him exiting the motel from the north door, the report continued. He was wearing a dark T-shirt with light writing on the front, a watch, jeans and shoes that appeared to be the same as those he had on when he entered the victim’s room, the report noted. He headed in the direction of Shamrock Boulevard, the report said.

No other person was observed going into the room between 9:04 a.m. and 10:07 a.m., the report said. The latter time is when the husband went to the room to check on his wife, the report added.

Hotel management confirmed that Havrilka had been staying in room 209 for approximately six days, the news release noted. After executing a search warrant for Room 209, the release said, “detectives recovered evidence from the aggravated battery.”

The report said that officers found a hand towel, which tested positive for blood. It was the same size as the one in the victim’s mouth, the report noted, and it matched the size of a towel missing from the room where the victim was discovered.

A K-9 deputy also assisted in the investigation, the report said. After the officer and the K-9 conducted a search in a wooded area at the intersection of Gentian Road and Wisteria Road, southwest of the hotel, the report added, the K-9 unit recovered Havrilka’s shirt and watch.

This is part of the wooded area at the intersection of Gentian Road and Wisteria Road in Venice. Image from Google Maps

Then, at 5:55 p.m. on April 20, the report continued, a physician at Venice Regional Bayfront Health pronounced the victim dead. That “elevated the incident to a homicide,” the news release noted.

Havrilka was uncooperative when detectives interviewed him, the report said. However through their investigation, the release added, detectives learned that Havrilka did not know the victim.

“This is one of the most egregious recent crimes we have seen in Sarasota County,” said Sheriff Kurt A. Hoffman.

A long criminal record

“Havrilka is a convicted felon with 34 prior felony charges and 19 felony convictions, as well as 16 prior misdemeanor charges and 10 misdemeanor convictions,” the news release pointed out. “He served time in prison on four separate occasions.” His prior crimes range from Vehicle Burglary, Criminal Mischief, Possession of Burglary Tools, Motor Vehicle Theft, and Battery, to Domestic Battery, Strangulation, Burglary with Assault or Battery, Battery of a Detained Person, Battery of a Person 65 Years or Older, and Tampering with a Witness,” the release added.

The Judge Lynn N. Silvertooth Judicial Center is located on Ringling Boulevard in downtown Sarasota. File photo

The most recent case involving Havrilka prior to the Venice incident occurred in early January, Sarasota County Clerk of Court records show. In that case, the Probable Cause Affidavit filed by the Sheriff’s Office said Havrilka was charged with battery.

The report explained that on Jan. 2, Havrilka told a deputy that “he got into a verbal altercation [with the victim] regarding money he alleged that she stole from him.” The report added that Havrilka said the woman had removed $2,800 from his wallet and deposited it into her bank account “while he was gone for the day.”

The victim told a deputy that the money was hers and that she had given it to Havrilka “to help him move several days prior.”

The report also indicated that Havrilka had told the victim he was going to “enter a treatment program,” as they had agreed he would. However, when he failed to do so, the victim said, she took the money back. “She showed me transaction history proving that [the money] came from her account,” the deputy wrote in the report.

The victim also told the deputy that Havrilka “punched her once in the top of the head” during an argument over the money.

Further, the deputy noted in that report that when he checked Havrilka’s criminal history, the deputy found that Havrilka “had prior guilty convictions related to battery,” which the deputy noted. Altogether, The Sarasota News Leader found, eight such convictions were documented in the report.

The cases dated back to July 2009, the report showed.

The April investigation remains open, the Sheriff’s Office news release said.