On Monday evening during the New Year's Eve festivities downtown, police responded quickly to a stabbing just before the pineapple drop.
The man stabbed was expected to recover. As of Tuesday, Joshua Paul Wren, 28, was in the hospital in non-life threatening condition, according to police spokesperson Capt. Paul Sutton.
The suspect, James Tilford Cooper, 44, who is homeless, was arrested on a charge of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.
Wren, a tow truck driver, was stabbed as he was preparing to tow a car that was illegally parked.
Cooper did not appear to have been involved with the attempt to tow the car, and police are investigating whether Cooper ingested a certain kind of “incense” that has been linked to several recent assaults nationally, said Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino.
Cooper stabbed Wren in the back, with what appeared to be a fishing knife, DiPino said.
On her first day on the job as Sarasota’s new police chief, DiPino was nearby walking the area with two other officers when the stabbing took place in the 1500 block of State Street.
“A number of citizens told us there was a fight and stabbing and that someone was hurt,” DiPino said.
Cooper was arrested immediately, and a police captain rendered aid to Wren before he was transported to Sarasota Memorial Hospital.
DiPino helped keep people away from the scene so evidence could be gathered, and a detective arrived within one minute, DiPino said.
After arresting Cooper, officers found 10 packages of “incense” not intended for human consumption. Police plan to test the incense found to determine if it is similar to incense involved in recent cases.
There have been recent national reports of people smoking certain kinds of herbal incense, or potpourri, as a substitute for marijuana. In one recent case covered in the media, a Waco, Texas, man was accused of attacking several housemates and killing and eating a spaniel mix dog after he smoked a potpourri called K-2.
DiPino said that although Cooper was homeless, the incident was isolated.
“There has been a lot of focus with the homeless population,” DiPino said. “The fact is this gentleman was a homeless person. It is just one incident.”
Contact Roger Drouin at [email protected].