DADE CITY - Those who knew and loved the case worker killed on the job Monday described her as a determined young woman who wanted to make a difference.
Police say Steffanie Ross was stabbed to death by a mentally unstable client, Lucious Smith. Part of her job was to check on him.
"We're having a hard time at school dealing with the loss of not only a student, many of our teachers had taught her and she was a very bright student, but also as a staff member," said Tracy Collins, Principal at Lakeland High School.
Ross graduated from LHS back in 2005, but worked there for a couple months before taking a job at Integra Health Management.
"Stephanie was very special, I know you probably hear that a lot but she very good hearted," Collins said. "She was very loving, nurturing, just one of those special people in the world that wanted to make a difference."
Neighbors on Coleman Avenue in Dade City recognized her as the case worker who visited Smith on several occasions.
They did not know, however, that after Ross' first of four visits, she recorded in a case file that Smith made her feel uncomfortable and suggested that no one visit him alone.
"She had expressed some interest about her safety and his aggressive behavior," explained Officer Brian Uppercue. "There's a lot of rage around Lucius Smith. We've had many contacts with him over the years. There's just a lot of rage there."
According to neighbors, Smith suffered from mental illness. At times he was generally good-natured and would even start conversation. Other times, he carried a knife around with him and shouted obscenities.
"Oh yeah, he liked carrying it in his sock," explained neighbor Amberlea Comfort. "He felt everybody was against him. He didn't like anybody being in his apartment."
Several of the women who live in the HUD complex where Lucious is accused of stabbing Ross admit they're not surprised he's accused of murder. They've been scared of him for years.
Monday afternoon, neighbors witnessed Ross run from Smith's apartment into the street, bleeding all over her body. Smith followed her with a butcher knife and continued to stab her.
"I said, 'Lucius, stop! You're killing her. Stop it, Lucius, stop!" Victoria Farkus remembered.
Farkus says Smith looked at her and told her Ross was a man who owed him money. Ross continued to scream when a woman driving by put her in the car and took her to a hospital where she later died of her stab wounds.
"Help me! Help Me!' Just over and over," explained Jessica Coleman.
Diane Brown, Chief Operating Officer at Integra headquarters in Maryland, claims they've never heard of any concerns about Smith. Police accounts conflict with that.
"My personal contacts with Lucius, there's really nothing you have to do to trigger him," Officer Uppercue said.
A judge denied Smith bond Tuesday and appointed him a public defender.
Neighbor Kathy Chanon is enraged, calling Ross' death completely preventable.
"This poor woman had to meet her death all by herself. Nobody helped her," she said.
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