Indian Rocks Beach bartender Rebecca Schaefer poses with the three men who rushed to her aid when a patron began stabbing her May 19, from left, Largo Firefighter/Paramedic Nick Rees, his brother Gordon Rees of Largo and Mike Arnold of Clearwater. The city honored the three for their heroism July 2.
LARGO – Rebecca Schaefer, fresh out of physical therapy for stab wounds to her left arm, knew exactly how fortunate she was to be standing in front of the Largo Commission July 2.
The 32-year-old bartender thanked the city for orchestrating the reunion. Then she addressed the three men who leaped to her rescue when a disgruntled patron began stabbing her May 19.
“I’m so grateful to you guys,” Schaefer said. “Without you guys there, I might just be a memory.”
The city of Largo presented awards to Largo Firefighter/Paramedic Nick Rees, his brother Gordon Rees of Largo and new Clearwater resident Mike Arnold for their heroic efforts that Sunday night.
Schaefer said the gratitude and appreciation she felt went beyond words.
“You guys are my heroes. You’ll always be in my heart. You gave me a second chance. You saved my life. Thank you,” she said.
The three men were merely bystanders at the Red Lion Pub when Schaefer was attacked.
“It happened so fast,” Gordon Rees said.
His brother said they went to the Indian Rocks Beach establishment to play foosball, relax and hang out. They were on their way out the door, at around 11 p.m., when they heard screams and commotion behind them. Gordon Rees said he didn’t think very much, but knew he had to try to get the knife away from the man who was stabbing the bartender several times.
“We didn’t really see him. We just acted,” Nick Rees said.
Meanwhile, Arnold said he watched the attack unfold in front of him from around the corner of the bar. He also rushed to help Schaefer. The first-time visitor of the bar had only moved to the area from Bradenton two weeks prior.
Arnold tried to take the knife from the man, and he was cut in the hand in the process. The brothers tried to restrain the man, who reportedly punched Gordon. Nick was stabbed in the right forearm.
Finally, Gordon Rees and Arnold were able to disarm the man and hold him down until deputies arrived.
James Klingbeil, 50, was later charged with attempted murder and two counts of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. He remains in jail awaiting trial, unable to meet the $140,000 bond.
Nick Rees received eight stitches in his arm and was able to return to work a few days later. Arnold, a mechanic, is still healing from the injury to his dominant hand.
“I know your lives have not been made any easier for this, and I’m sorry for that,” Schaefer told the three July 2. “I’ve thought about all the different ways it could have gone down that night, and I’m just so glad it played out exactly the way it did.”
Schaefer said she encountered Klingbeil while she was working the night before the attack. He had left with a girl and came back with scratches, she said.
“It was just odd, so I didn’t want him to be there anymore,” she explained.
The intoxicated man was asked to leave. Schaefer, who’s worked as a bartender for about 10 years and at Red Lion for five, said he gave her “attitude.” But it wasn’t anything she hadn’t seen before. She didn’t think anything of it.
On the night of the attack, Schaefer wasn’t scheduled to work, but had stopped by the Red Lion to socialize. Klingbeil came back and was again refused service. He left, but according to Sheriff’s Office reports at the time, he walked along Gulf Boulevard purchased a fillet knife at a convenience store within a few blocks.
When he came back, his verbal attacks focused on Schaefer, who said she didn’t engage him. When he was again asked to leave, he pulled out the knife and attacked Schaefer.
“(He) was looking to kill someone,” she said.
Schaefer’s injuries required more than 100 stitches, she said. The damage was focused on her left arm, which is unfortunate, given that she’s left-handed. Recovery has put her out of work.
“My life went from crazy busy to a standstill,” she said, adding that she is looking forward to things returning to normal.
“I’m doing better,” she said.
Friends and family of the heroes and victim alike packed the Largo commission chambers July 2. The city presented Nick Rees, one of their own employees, with a National Medal of Honor for Valor. Gordon Rees and Arnold received awards for Meritorious Service.
All three were cheered in standing ovations.
“It’s been overwhelming,” Nick Rees admitted, as the crowd surrounded the group in the lobby of city hall after the awards, expressing thanks and taking pictures. “I’m so grateful for everyone to be recognized and for Rebecca to be OK.”