UF history professor found dead in apartment


Published: Monday, September 30, 2013 at 10:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 30, 2013 at 10:20 p.m.

Florin Curta last saw his colleague and fellow history professor Alan Petigny last Monday outside their offices at the University of Florida.

“We chatted, he was positive and full of life and new projects,” Curta said. Petigny had just begun writing his second book, about changes in U.S. culture after World War II, and wanted Curta to read the first chapter.

It was the last time the two would speak to each other. Petigny, 48, died last week, law enforcement officials said, apparently of natural causes.

“He had medical problems,” Curta said. “I can’t tell you what they were. He was private and I respected that.”

Thursday night, University Police and the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office discovered Petigny’s body in his apartment after History Department Chairwoman Ida Altman reported that he was missing.

Altman said Petigny hadn’t shown up to teach his classes all week, and that the last time anyone had seen him was Monday. She said a colleague had said he failed to show up for a racquetball match.

“We found out on Thursday he hadn’t come to class all week,” Altman said. “I became extremely alarmed because he always kept in touch.”

Altman told police that every time she tried to call him, his phone went to voicemail and the mailbox was full.

Altman said she called Petigny’s mother, Pearl Petigny, in Tampa, and she said she had also not heard from him in a few days. UPD Officer Jessica Lynn Zarate wrote in her report that Petigny’s mother said he usually called her every day.

Petigny’s mother also told police that he had moved in the past few months but she didn’t have his current address, nor was it the same address that police had on file, so officers went to his former address to ask the landlord if he knew where to find Petigny.

Police found out that Petigny had moved to the Cottage Grove apartments at 4600 S.W. 13th St., and located his 1999 Silver BMW M3 convertible there, parked in front of Apartment 1476. After knocking on several doors, they found a neighbor who pointed them to Apartment 1444.

Zarate saw a light on upstairs, and a television on in a downstairs bedroom. She and Lt. Robert Wagner knocked on several windows before Casey Cain, Petigny’s roommate, came to the door. “As I walked up the stairs to Petigny’s bedroom I could smell a foul odor coming from upstairs,” she wrote in her report.

Zarate said Cain told her he had not seen Petigny in several days.

Zarate knocked on the door, then opened it when she got no answer. When she opened the door, a blue suitcase leaning against it fell over. She said she found Petigny lying on the floor, face down, next to his bed.

UPD referred the case to the Alachua Sheriff’s Office, which sent out a detective and crime scene unit. They found nothing suspicious, and contacted Petigny’s physician to sign the death certificate, said Sgt. Scott Ulrich of the ASO.

Betty Smocovitis, a history of science professor at UF, said she’d known Petigny since his days as a student at UF 20 years ago. “I always watched over him,” she said.

Colleagues said Petigny had health problems and took time off from work last spring to have surgery, but they didn’t know what those problems were.

“I knew he had health problems because last year he had to miss over a week’s worth of classes,” said Rance Cannon, a graduate student whom Petigny had been advising. “However, while he was teaching, no one would have been able to guess it. His mind was always vibrant and sharp, never missing for a fact, never missing energy.”

Cannon said he will miss his mentor and friend who helped him find work so he could continue to attend UF.

“Finding a replacement for Alan will be difficult, but I have total faith in the UF faculty, all of whom have been so supportive during this time,” Cannon said. “But on a personal level, friends can never be replaced.”

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