SPRING HILL –
Sarah Blackburn had lost weight and her will to continue the façade of a solid marriage.
To her friend, Kris Lombardi, she looked physically beat down.
Blackburn’s marriage to her physician husband had lasted 17 years. She endured constant emotional abuse since the beginning, Lombardi said.
Lombardi also is a wife of a doctor. She had something in common with Blackburn. They had known each other for years, but didn’t become friends until they sat down and talked for several hours one night in November.
They had lived through countless nights of being the only parent at home with the kids. They both watched helplessly as stress wore down their spouses. They swapped stories.
Blackburn had been there to support her husband both publicly and privately, Lombardi said.
She decided to wait until after the holidays to deliver him the news.
“She wanted out,” Lombardi said. “She told me she had divorce papers drawn.”
On Sunday, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office, Blackburn divulged her plans to her husband.
An autopsy revealed she had died from a variety of injuries related to a savage beating. She suffered trauma to her chest, arms and face. Her broken bones included her sternum, right clavicle, ribs and neck. She suffered a lacerated heart and liver and had blood in her lungs. She also suffered a gunshot wound to her head.
Dr. Robert Blackburn suffered a minor stab wound to his chest, deputies said.
He called his office manager, Ruth Hoock, to the scene after he killed his wife, according to the sheriff’s office.
He showed her vital documents he kept inside the home and made Hoock promise her to make sure his children were cared for.
He told her he was going to commit suicide. Hoock pleaded with him, but he forced her out of the house, deputies said.
Hoock got into her Ford pickup parked in the driveway and called 911. By the time authorities arrived, Robert Blackburn lay dead next to his wife in the master bedroom. He died from a single gunshot wound to the head, according to the sheriff’s office.
Hoock did not return phone calls seeking comment Tuesday.
Sgt. Donna Black, a sheriff’s spokeswoman, could not confirm whether the doctor’s blade injury was self-inflicted.
She paused and said, “That can’t be positively determined.”
The blade found near the bodies was about 2 inches long, Black said.
“We can’t believe a man could be so violent,” said Jane Castro, who lives along the same street in Lake in the Woods, a gated community along U.S. 19. “We’re still in a fog.”
Neither she nor other neighbors knew about their failing marriage. No one heard the gunshots.
Like Castro, Mary Homer did not know the Blackburn home was a crime scene until she looked out the window and saw sheriff’s cruisers and streams of yellow tape.
“She seemed to be such a friendly person,” Homer said of Sarah Blackburn. “She was always with the children and they have such nice children.”
Neither of the kids was in the house at the time of the incident. The sheriff’s office said they were staying with relatives.
There is nothing in Blackburn’s criminal history that showed he had violent tendencies.
He was charged in 1994 in Osceola County of fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer, but the charge eventually was dropped.
In 1992, he was charged with obstruction without violence, but that charge was dismissed, according to background records.
Blackburn was in the news days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks after he confronted a doctor in the lounge at Oak Hill Hospital who allegedly made anti-American remarks.
He was asked by a reporter whether he had physically attacked the man.
“The doctor eventually left,” Blackburn said. “Let’s leave it at that.”
Rumors swirled Blackburn had physically assaulted him.
Dr. Durgarao Parimi, who still practices in Spring Hill, said his words were misconstrued. He said he was referring to the country’s security when he said America “got what it deserved.”
Parimi was out of the country Tuesday and was unavailable for comment.
Rich Linkel, a spokesman for Oak Hill, said the hospital would not comment about the incident.
News reports showed Blackburn’s hospital privileges were suspended briefly in 2001 following run-ins with another doctor of Indian origin. A radiologist accused him of slandering her based on her ethnicity.
Blackburn also had medical privileges at Spring Hill and Brooksville Regional hospitals since 1999. He never had them suspended, according to hospital spokeswoman Robin Schneider.
Kathy Burke, the CEO at Brooksville Regional, said he was “known as a patient advocate and community supporter.”
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of both Dr. Blackburn and his wife, Sarah,” Burke continued. “Our heartfelt prayers are with their children and families.”
Dr. Jeff Carley left Blackburn’s practice last year and moved outside Charlotte, N.C. He was one of many to leave him during his years of practicing medicine in Hernando County.
Carley declined to comment. A message left at his home also was not returned.
Bryan Merrigan was an 11-year-old patient of Blackburn’s. He came in for a case of tonsillitis. It was 17 years ago, but Merrigan remembered in vivid detail what happened.
He recalled sitting on an exam table and swinging his legs. Blackburn, who seemed affable at first, asked the boy to stop. He didn’t want his table scuffed.
A short time later, he started swinging his legs again, this time knocking his heel against the bottom of the table.
“I was just hyper or nervous,” Merrigan said. “I had no malicious intent.”
He said malice came over Blackburn, who lifted him off the table, bent him over his knee and spanked him three times.
He lifted him back onto the table and left the room.
Merrigan and his mother sat in the doctor’s office in shock.
Blackburn returned with prescription medication. He was back to normal and acted like nothing was wrong, Merrigan said.
“We were totally stunned,” he recalled. “We left the office and never went back … This might sound a little stupid, but he really scared the hell out of me. When I found out about what he did I have to say I wasn’t surprised. He had a temper.”
Anonymous calls and e-mails were made to Hernando Today since the story broke Sunday night, several of them complaining of the doctor’s past behaviors. Most would not speak on the record or leave their names.
Kim Palmer also is married to a doctor. Like Lombardi, she met and befriended Sarah Blackburn through their social circles.
“Sarah was just great,” Palmer said. “She was devoted to her family.
“She was a great mom and she pretty much ran that household,” she continued. “She was always encouraging. She was pretty independent and pretty strong.”
Palmer said she knew Blackburn’s husband had a temper. That was no secret among her and others in the local medical field.
None expected something as violent as what occurred Sunday.
“Bob had a temper,” she said, “but it’s just sickening to think he did that to Sarah.”
Lombardi said she last received a text message from Blackburn four days before she was killed.
“She had had it,” Lombardi said. “She said he had been killing her emotionally and mentally. You could see it. She was tired. She was drained.”
Reporter Tony Holt can be reached at 352-544-5283 or firstname.lastname@example.org.