Articles on this Page
- 12/24/14--09:23: _Police arrest child...
- 12/24/14--11:45: _Trooper crashes cru...
- 12/25/14--06:21: _Man charged with st...
- 12/25/14--15:15: _Teen injured by bea...
- 12/25/14--16:29: _Investigators: 2 at...
- 12/25/14--16:42: _Fatal shooting susp...
- 12/26/14--17:16: _BCSO: Rape allegati...
- 12/27/14--15:20: _Man dies after head...
- 12/28/14--17:17: _Reed sentenced to 4...
- 12/29/14--13:51: _Police investigate ...
- 12/29/14--14:57: _WCSO: Suspect in pr...
- 12/29/14--16:40: _Flooding forces roa...
- 12/29/14--16:40: _Crash on I-10 injur...
- 12/29/14--16:44: _Wanted man arrested...
- 12/29/14--22:54: _BCSO calls off sear...
- 12/30/14--11:08: _Panama City man kil...
- 12/30/14--16:44: _Callaway man charge...
- 12/30/14--16:59: _Beach Police ID arm...
- 12/30/14--17:03: _Arrange for a sober...
- 12/30/14--17:13: _Top 10: (2) Series ...
- 12/24/14--09:23: Police arrest child abuse suspects
- 12/24/14--11:45: Trooper crashes cruiser
- 12/25/14--06:21: Man charged with stealing water
- 12/25/14--15:15: Teen injured by bear released from hospital
- 12/25/14--16:29: Investigators: 2 attacks may not be connected
- 12/25/14--16:42: Fatal shooting suspect kills himself in Okaloosa, officers say
- 12/26/14--17:16: BCSO: Rape allegation has inconsistencies
- 12/27/14--15:20: Man dies after head-on crash on 11th Street
- 12/28/14--17:17: Reed sentenced to 45 years for 2013 stabbing
- 12/29/14--13:51: Police investigate gun thefts
- 12/29/14--14:57: WCSO: Suspect in prison beating commits suicide
- 12/29/14--16:40: Flooding forces road closures
- 12/29/14--16:40: Crash on I-10 injures 7
- 12/29/14--16:44: Wanted man arrested after chase
- 12/29/14--22:54: BCSO calls off search in rape investigation
- 12/30/14--11:08: Panama City man killed in early morning crash
- 12/30/14--16:44: Callaway man charged after crashes, chases, fight
- 12/30/14--16:59: Beach Police ID armed robbery suspect
- 12/30/14--17:03: Arrange for a sober driver this New Year’s Eve
- 12/30/14--17:13: Top 10: (2) Series of murders sparks community concern
- No. 10: Bankers imprisoned in fraud case»»
- No. 9: County studies RESTORE Act funding»»
- No. 8: Area sees wild weather, from ice storm to flooding»»
- No. 7: City establishing plan for bed tax distribution»»
- No. 6: St. Joe closes major land sale, plans huge development»»
- No. 5: Bay economy bouncing back»»
- No. 4: Marina progress»»
- No. 3: Southerland defeated, Fensom victorious in hot elections»»
- No. 2: Year of violence
PANAMA CITY — A Panama City couple has been arrested and charged with child abuse and neglect for allegedly inflicting "torturous burns" and other injuries on a 5-year-old girl, according to Panama City Police.
Tondra Lavesa Hogans Evans, 41, of Panama City, is charged with child neglect, and Michael Vonkee Carson, 28 and Hogans Evans' live-in boyfriend, is charged with three counts of aggravated child abuse and three counts of child neglect. Police say additional charges are expected in the ongoing investigation.
Detectives began investigating the couple in early November. They say the girl was a victim of repeated abuse, including "torturous burns and numerous lash/whip marks."
Hogans Evans was arrested in Middleville, Ala., on Nov. 25 and later extradited to Bay County. Carson was arrested on a warrant in Okaloosa County Tuesday and will be returned to Bay County.
PANAMA CITY — A state trooper caused about $15,000 in damage to his cruiser after careening offroad and head-on into a treeline on the way to an emergency, according to a Florida Highway Patrol report.
Trooper Nathaniel T. Russell was not injured in the crash, according to FHP reports
FHP reported Russell was driving Tuesday at about 12:45 p.m. in his 2013 Chevy Tahoe patrol vehicle north on Couty 2321 north of Highpoint Road in emergency mode. The road was wet with standing water, due to heavy rain. Russell lost control of the SUV and careened off the west shoulder of the road. Russell then collided head-on with three pine trees, FHP reported.
Russell did not sustain any injuries in the crash, but the Tahoe was damaged to the tune of about $15,000.
An investigation into charges against the trooper is pending, FHP said.
CALLAWAY — A Callaway man has been arrested on felony charges for allegedly stealing more than 28,000 gallons of water from the city, according to arrest records.
Anthony G. Delarosa, 34, was arrested Monday and charged with grand theft and tampering with a Callaway utility meter after allegedly stealing about a month’s worth of water from the city, Bay County Sheriff’s Office reported.
Deputies were called by city employees to Delarosa’s Beaver Street home Monday at about 10 a.m. The city employee said he shut off Delarosa’s water on Nov. 24 and locked the meter. When the city employee returned on Dec. 19, the lock had been cut off so he replaced it. The next day the city employee returned again and replaced the second lock that had been cut off the meter, BCSO reported.
When deputies arrived Monday, the third lock had been severed from the water meter. The city employee valued each of the locks at about $5 each and calculated the amount of water used during the time frame to be 28,240 gallons — a value of about $379. The report gave no reason why so much water was used in a month.
Delarosa was charged with grand theft and tampering with a utility meter.
Delarosa told the deputies he continued to cut off the locks because “he was going through a rough time financially and could not afford the bill,” BCSO reported.
EASTPOINT — A teen injured in a bear attack this week was released from the hospital on Christmas Eve.
Meanwhile, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission continues to search for the bear responsible for the attack.
Two adult bears were trapped Tuesday and euthanized in the area where a 15-year-old girl was mauled over the weekend.
Two cubs also were trapped, but are being released in the Osceola area, according to Stan Kirkland, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Kirkland said the FWC will continue “removing” and euthanizing adult bears from the Eastpoint area in Franklin County until a lab in British Columbia can match DNA collected from the scene of the attack to one of the euthanized bears.
All cubs will be relocated, he said.
DNA evidence normally takes about seven days to process, but the Christmas holiday might cause delays.
No additional bears were trapped Wednesday.
The victim, 15-year-old Leah Reeder, was walking her dog Sunday evening when an adult bear attacked and seriously injured her. She was released from Bay Medical Center Sacred Heart Health System on Wednesday.
PANAMA CITY BEACH — Sheriff’s deputies and Panama City Beach Police are searching for suspects in two home-invasion cases that might not be related after all, one law enforcement official said.
Initially, officers believed the cases may have involved the same suspect.
On Dec. 16, a white man dressed all in black clothes entered a woman’s home in the Edgewater Crossing Apartments and attacked her, according to a Panama City Beach Police press release. The woman was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries. Police are investigating and won’t release additional information.
Deputies with the Bay County Sheriff’s Office said later in the week they believed it was related to another home invasion the BCSO has classified as a sexual battery. In that case, deputies responded to a home on North Lagoon Drive in the unincorporated area of Panama City Beach.
They found the home in disarray, with what deputies believed was bleach poured all over a staircase and a bed, according to a BCSO report. A blanket hanging out of the window was tied to one of the bedposts. Deputies searched the area last week using the BCSO’s K9 and air units, but the suspect got away and remained at large early this week.
The victim told deputies she believed she had been drugged with an unknown substance, and the only description she could provide was of a white man who wore a mask during the attack. She also was hospitalized.
Deputies believe he may have been driving a white pickup truck with a camper cover and decals, but they had no other investigative leads, Sgt. Marc Tochterman said Monday.
Panama City Beach Police Chief Drew Whitman said earlier this week police believe the two crimes are random in that there doesn’t seem to be a connection between the two victims; they don’t know each other and neither knew the man who attacked them.
“Right now we believe they’re random,” Whitman said.
Tochterman didn’t say why investigators initially believed the cases might have been related, but that theory was unraveling.
“It’s looking more and more like it’s not related,” Tochterman said.
Whitman could not be reached later in the week for clarification. When asked whether the city’s case was a sexual assault or a home invasion, a spokesperson for the PCBPD said Wednesday the department is investigating the case as a home invasion.
OCALA — A Marion County man is dead and his wife seriously injured following an early Christmas morning shooting. The man believed to have shot the couple is also dead after shooting himself in Okaloosa County as he fled from law enforcement after the shooting.
Preston Daniel Pollard, 23, of Venus, Texas, drove from Texas to the Florida home of Richard and Mary Lou Hutson of Marion Oaks, authorities said.
He arrived at 12:17 a.m. Christmas morning, after a nearly 16-hour drive.
“The shooter went up to the house, said Lauren Lettelier, Marion County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman. “They opened the door and he started shooting.”
Richard Hutson, 36, died at the scene. His wife, Mary Lou Hutson, 55, was taken to Ocala Regional Medical Center and remains in critical condition. There were also three children in the home and an 18-year-old woman, but they were not harmed.
Marion County sheriff’s detectives identified Pollard after interviewing witnesses, including the 18-year-old. Pollard might have been an ex-boyfriend of the 18-year-old woman, Lettelier said.
The 18-year-old woman also lived in the home and during, or soon after the shooting, locked the three children into a home bathroom for their safety, and ran away to a neighbor’s home for help. The neighbor was also a Ocala Police Department officer.
“He came to Marion County for the sole purpose to shoot these two individuals,” Lettelier said.
After the shooting, Pollard got back into his 2002 blue, two-door Honda Civic and apparently headed back toward Texas — a nearly 1,100-mile drive.
Marion County sheriff’s detectives put a BOLO out on his car.
About 5:30 a.m., the Florida Highway Patrol and Walton County sheriff’s deputies spotted Pollard driving west on Interstate 10 and tried to stop him.
Pollard was driving about 70 mph when he shot himself in the head, authorities said, causing the car to spin into a 90 degree turn and crash into a wooded area along the highway.
The crash site was between mile marker 66 and 67, just inside Okaloosa County.
Marion County investigators believe the firearm Pollard used in the shooting and the clothes he was wearing are in the Honda Civic, Lettelier said. They will confirm that when Marion County detectives examine the car and its contents, she said.
“We are confident that Pollard is, indeed, our homicide suspect and residents can rest easy this Christmas night that he has been identified and brought into custody,” Lettelier said on behalf of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. “Our thoughts are with the family of the victims at this time as they grieve for their loss and as they support Mrs. Hutson, who is still being treated for her injuries.”
PANAMA CITY BEACH — Authorities investigating an alleged rape case have changed their focus after inconsistencies began to arise between victim accounts and evidence at the scene, the Bay County Sheriff’s Office announced Friday.
BCSO officials said they now are downgrading their investigation into an alleged sexual battery in the North Lagoon area of Panama City Beach on Dec. 19 — a case initially thought to be a repeat of an earlier home invasion. Though the investigation is ongoing, BCSO has decided to change its focus with the discovery of conflicting evidence, BCSO officials said in a press release Friday.
“Since the original report of the event, investigators have developed some concerning and questionable inconsistencies with statements and evidence gathered at the scene,” BCSO officials reported in the release. “This has somewhat redirected our investigation into this matter.”
Officials did not respond to requests for further explanation Friday.
However, the Dec. 19 incident is still being worked as a sexual battery. Initially, investigators believed it to be linked to a Dec. 16 home invasion at Edgewater Crossing Apartments where a woman was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.
Police have said the woman was attacked during the home invasion but have not released other details in the case. The first case is not being investigated as a sexual assault.
On Dec. 19 a similar incident occurred in North Lagoon. Investigators have not said why they initially believed the two were connected, but BCSO went on to pursue the case as a sexual battery. With conflicting statements and evidence developed during their investigation, BCSO has downgraded their urgency in the case.
“Even though the case remains open, our sense of urgency is slowly diminishing,” BCSO officials said. “We will release more details as they become available.”
PANAMA CITY — A Fountain man was killed Friday night in a head-on crash in the 800 block of West 11th Street.
Johnny Lloyd Cureton Jr., 49, drove out of the parking lot of Central Baptist Church about 6:50 p.m. and was heading east on 11th Street when he crossed the street and started traveling on the north sidewalk, according to the Panama City Police Department.
He then veered back into the westbound lane near the Wash Depot and struck a vehicle driven by Victoria Markie Lieberman, 61, of Panama City Beach, police reported.
Both drivers were taken to Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center, where Cureton died.
Lieberman was treated for a lower leg injury, according to police.
Police are continuing their investigation.
CHIPLEY — Shaun Reed, 46, of Chipley, was sentenced in
Reed was sentenced to serve 45 years in the Florida Department of Corrections for the attempted murder of
A jury found Reed guilty of the stabbings last month when he stood trial for two counts of attempted second-degree murder.
On the first count, relating to the stabbing of Murphy, the jury found Reed guilty of the lesser charge of aggravated battery. On the second count, relating to the stabbing of
According to Chipley Police Department records, officers responded to
Upon arrival, officers found Jackson, Reed’s former girlfriend, lying on the living room floor “in a large pool of blood.” Shortly after, they found Murphy with several stab wounds.
Reed will receive credit for the 531 days he’s served in jail.
PANAMA CITY — Police are investigating a burglary in which several firearms, including two AK-47s, were taken from a home, according to Panama City Police Department reports.
When officers arrived to the Clay Avenue home Friday at about 4 p.m., it appeared someone had broken into the home moments earlier. The victim said he just returned home to find his side door open and his back door kicked in. Several items were out of place, including a gun safe emptied out of five guns, according to PCPD incident reports.
“I looked through the house and noticed a large gun safe that appeared to have been pried open,” investigators wrote in their reports. “… It was discovered five long guns were stolen from the safe.”
Among other items taken from the home were a Winchester 1300 Defender pump action 12-gauge, an A M1 Grand 30-06, an AK-47 7.62-39 with a folding stock, an AK-47 762-39 with a wood stock, a Lee Enfield 303 caliber bolt-action rifle with a wood stock.
Only one serial number of the AK-47s was known to the owner, officers said.
In total, the guns were estimated to be valued at about $2,200. A black nylon sling valued at $40 and a tan laundry basket with gray handles also were also stolen.
The suspects are still at large in the incident, PCPD confirmed Monday afternoon.
CHIPLEY — A former correctional officer charged in connection with a prison beating took his own life Saturday, authorities reported.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office responded to a call at the Quarterhouse Lane residence of former Department of Corrections (DOC) employee James Kirkland. They found the former DOC captain dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Kirkland was one of six correctional officers arrested and fired from their positions at the Northwest Florida Reception Center in September in connection with a prison beating.
Five other officers — Sgt. William Finch, Sgt. James Perkins, Sgt. Robert Miller, Sgt. Christopher Christmas and Sgt. Dalton Riley — were charged with malicious felony battery on an inmate. Kirkland, who was a superior officer, faced additional charges of official misconduct.
Video from the prison showed 31-year-old inmate Jeremiah L. Tatum, serving a seven-year prison sentence for cocaine trafficking, being slammed, face first to the concrete floor by Finch and Riley while Tatum’s hands were restrained behind his back and his ankles restrained. The three other officers then jumped on Tatum and pinned him to the ground, according to arrest records.
The alleged incident occurred in August.
After his arrest, Kirkland was given a $25,000 bond, which he posted, resulting in his release. Kirkland also faced two counts of official misconduct for orchestrating the incident and then allegedly pressuring the officers to sign fictitious reports.
WASHINGTON COUNTY — Several stretches of road in Washington County remain closed due to flooding, county officials said Monday.
Douglas Ferry Road was closed from 5893 Douglas Ferry Road to Billy Lee Landing; and Summerhouse Road was closed from Stumpknocker Trail to Strickland Landing, according to the Washington County Public Works department.
If any residents have questions, contact the Public Works department at 850-638-6280.
CHIPLEY — A van carrying seven people crashed on Interstate 10 near Washington County early Sunday morning.
Celso Manuel, 46, of Clifton, N.J., was driving west on I-10 in Washington County near mile marker 123 when the right rear tire of his vehicle blew out. The van entered the median, spinning counterclockwise, and then overturned with his six passengers inside, FHP reported.
The six other people in the car, including four juveniles — 8, 10, 11 and 15 years old — were treated with minor injuries.
Manuel sustained serious injuries and was taken to a local hospital.
PANAMA CITY — A Panama City man wanted on several charges, including battery on a pregnant woman, has been arrested after attempting to outrun police, according to a Panama City Police Department news release.
Daunta M. Reynolds, 27, was arrested Sunday at about 1:50 a.m. on charges of fleeing a law enforcement officer, resisting arrest without violence and driving with suspended or revoked license. He also was cited for an open container violation, PCPD reported.
Officers attempted to conduct a traffic stop of a vehicle near the intersection of U.S. Business 98 and Bay Avenue, but Reynolds fled from police, finally stopping the vehicle at the intersection of East 8th Court and Massalina Drive, where he fled on foot. A short time later, an officer located Reynolds hiding in the bushes next to a residence in the area and was taken into custody, officers said.
During the investigation, officers learned Reynolds had seven active warrants out of Bay County. Subsequently, Reynolds was transported to the Bay County Jail, where he also was served with his seven warrants, which included aggravated battery on a pregnant woman, burglary of an occupied structure while armed and other occasions of eluding officers without violence.
PANAMA CITY — The Bay County Sheriff’s Office is halting its investigation into a Panama City Beach rape case after inconsistencies arose in the statements of the alleged victim, officials announced Monday.
Initially, investigators believed the case may have been connected with a Panama City Beach home invasion days earlier. Physical evidence at the scene appeared to match, which was interpreted as a calling card for a would-be serial rapist. However, after more than a week of their investigation, BCSO called off its search for a suspect in its case, stating that neither a sexual battery nor a home invasion occurred as reported.
“We discovered some of the things reported had not been accurate,” Sheriff Frank McKeithen said at a Monday news conference. “We’re pretty convinced the allegations made by the victim were not true and correct.”
BCSO investigators suspect mental issues contributed to the filing of a false report to law enforcement. The victim has been detained under the Baker Act, McKeithen said, which could protect her from criminal charges in connection with the report.
Investigators initially believed the scene from the incident in the North Lagoon apartment resembled that of another Panama City Beach home invasion from a few days earlier. The reports of a masked assailant attacking a woman in her home, the apparent use of chemicals as an attempt to conceal the crime and the time of day of the incident were among the similar characteristics.
“It’s very unusual for something like this to happen,” McKeithen said. “And that was what we thought to be the connection.”
Around noon on Dec. 16, a white male dressed in all black clothes entered a woman’s home in the Edgewater Crossing Apartments and attacked her, according to a Panama City Beach Police press release. She was treated for chemical burns on her skin, caused by exposure to bleach.
PCBPD has not announced an arrest in that case.
Days later, on Dec. 19, a similar incident occurred on North Lagoon. The coincidences were thought to perhaps be the calling card of a would-be serial rapist, McKeithen said.
Investigators found the North Lagoon apartment in disarray with what deputies believed was bleach poured over a staircase and bed. A blanket hanging out of the window was tied to one of the bedposts. The victim told deputies she believed she had been drugged with an unknown substance, and the only description she could provide was of a white man who wore a mask during the attack.
Though the victim did not give detectives further information about the incident, investigators discovered inconsistencies among others’ accounts from that day and the route an assailant would have taken to reach the victim.
“There was no reason to doubt the validity of a sexual battery victim; you just don’t do that,” McKeithen said. “But because of inaccuracies in the reports, we felt confident in telling the public we believe it did not happen.”
No charges have been filed against the alleged victim. McKeithen said she is still in treatment at a mental facility.
PANAMA CITY — A Panama City motorcycle driver was killed Monday night after running off the road into a treeline, Florida Highway Patrol reported in a news release.
Nicholas G. Benedetto, 31, was driving south on County Road 2321 on Monday at about 9:50 p.m. when his 2009 Honda CBR motorcycle traveled off the west portion of the roadway. The motorcycle then collided with several trees, overturned and came to a final rest on the west shoulder of County Road 2321, according to the FHP report.
Benedetto, of Panama City, was pronounced dead at the scene by Bay County EMS personal, FHP said. Officers reported he was not wearing a helmet at the time.
FHP did not include a cause for the crash, which is still under investigation.
CALLAWAY — A Callaway man has been arrested after allegedly crashing two stolen cars while attempting to elude police, according to Bay County Sheriff’s Office reports.
Dustin Allen Sikes, 24, was arrested Monday after allegedly crashing one stolen car into a tree and escaping capture on foot. The next day he again allegedly crashed another stolen car, this time into a house, before being arrested and taken to jail, BCSO reported.
Sikes was charged Monday with a litany of offenses, ranging from reckless driving to false imprisonment, according to court documents.
Police picked up a female after the white 1998 Nissan Altima she had been riding in crashed into a tree on East Fourth Street. The woman said her driver, who had departed on foot after the wreck, offered her a ride at about 10:30 p.m. Friday from the Callaway Wal-Mart. Shortly after she got into the car, he pulled a gun on her and told her not to leave, she told deputies.
That was just before the officers’ patrol cruiser began to circle the Nissan in the parking lot. The two slid down in their seats, hiding from the deputies and drawing suspicion. When deputies pulled behind the car, the driver bolted out of the parking lot, pulling into traffic and nearly causing a collision, police reported.
After a short pursuit to 5402 E. Fourth St., the deputies found the emptied and mangled car crashed into a tree. The girl was found walking away from the wreckage. Inside, deputies found a cellphone belonging to Sikes, though he was nowhere to be found, police said.
At about 2:30 p.m. Saturday, bystanders flagged down deputies near the Chick-fil-A at 417 N. Tyndall Pkwy. The 1999 Dodge truck that had just passed the officers ran over one man as it was being stolen, the bystanders said.
The deputies doubled back and began chasing the truck down Cherry Street before it turned onto Indian Summer — a dead-end road. The truck careened into the house at 141 Indian Summer, and the driver ran through several backyards of the neighborhood, deputies reported.
Another female exited the vehicle with her hands raised.
A struggle ensued, with the deputies and Sikes trading blows before Sikes was arrested, according to deputy accounts.
Sikes was taken to jail for false imprisonment, reckless driving, hit and run, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, attempt to elude law enforcement and resisting arrest with violence. Deputies said Sikes had been wanted in connection with a burglary from Sip N Que Bar, where a firearm was taken from a car.
Deputies estimated the vehicles sustained about $7,500 in damage and one police radio, worth about $3,500, had been damaged in the ensuing struggle. The amount of damage caused to the home was unclear.
PANAMA CITY BEACH — Police have confirmed the identity of a suspect sought in the armed robbery of a local McDonald’s.
Panama City Beach Police have been seeking the man believed to have entered the McDonald’s at 16990 Front Beach Road at about 4:30 a.m. Monday brandishing a firearm and wearing a white mask. Beach Police said they were searching for 21-year-old Rico Tyvorise Gamble, of Panama City, as their prime suspect later in the evening.
Gamble allegedly robbed the business and then ordered the two employees into the cooler of the establishment before fleeing the scene, police said.
Gamble’s whereabouts are unknown and police believe he could be armed. As of Monday night, authorities said their information indicated Gamble was headed west toward Walton County.
Anyone with information on the incident is asked to contact the Panama City Beach Police Department at 233-5000 or remain anonymous by calling Crime Stopper at 785-TIPS (8477).
PANAMA CITY — With parties and revelry planned to usher in the new year Wednesday night, it’s important to remember safety precautions like having a safe ride home after drinking.
Several area taxi services are available for safe rides tonight, while local towing company White’s Wrecker Services is providing free rides and tows for 48 hours from midnight Tuesday to midnight Thursday.
“We do it to help the community,” said Hassie White, “and to make sure people get home safely.”
The company will respond to any locations in Bay and Gulf counties anytime on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. White said no employees ever complain about the extra work.
“We’re happy to do it,” she said.
White’s Wrecker Services can be reached at 850-215-8695.
Some area condominiums, like Boardwalk Beach Resort, also may offer free shuttle services for their guests.
The Bay County Sheriff’s Office, as well as other area law enforcement agencies, will expand its patrols in preparation for the heightened possibility of accidents.
“We are augmenting our normal crew with members of our auxiliary and reserve groups,” said BCSO spokeswoman Ruth Corley.
BCSO also will increase the number of dispatchers working tonight and Thursday to handle a potentially higher volume of 911 calls.
“We certainly want to be able to handle it,” Corley said.
Three people in the U.S. are killed every two hours in alcohol-related accidents and that alcohol-related car crashed cost Americans billions of dollars every year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
NEED A RIDE?
- Affordable Transportation Inc., 850-233-0029
- Beach Boys Shuttle, 850-236-6234
- Emerald Taxi, 850-792-2546
- Lemon Taxi, 850-276-8884
- Red Cabs of Panama City, 850-733-2227
- White’s Wrecker Services, 850-215-8695
Editor’s Note: The News Herald is publishing its annual countdown and update of the top 10 stories of the year. These were the stories reporters and editors felt were the most important in Bay County in 2014. The series will end on New Year’s Day with the top story of the year.
PANAMA CITY — One of the bullets burrowed into a green Toyota Camry outside a tiny, ramshackled Panama City home. Another found its way to the chest of a 21-year-old man.
There in the driveway along a residential street, Christopher Coleman would collapse, and he would later be pronounced dead from the gunshot wounds.
Little has been released in the Oct. 18 death investigation. A suspected reason for Coleman’s death and most of the evidence from the scene has not been released to the public, because no arrests have been made.
“Intricate details of active investigations are not public record and no agency will jeopardize the identification, apprehension or successful prosecution of offenders,” said Panama City Police Chief Scott Ervin.
Coleman’s case is one of many in a year marred by an unprecedented amount of bloodshed in Bay County. While FDLE records show there were eight murders in all of Bay County in 2013, three of which occurred in Panama City, a rash of at least nine shooting deaths plagued Panama City alone this year, though gun-related violence was not constrained to the county seat.
A full accounting of all 2014 homicides in Bay County had not been made available as of Tuesday afternoon, but court records show at least 20 people have been charged so far in connection with a homicide in 2014.
A common theme did not emerge from all of the shootings, but most were influenced by the pursuit or effects of illegal substances, according to Bob Sombathy, the state’s prosecutor for a majority of the cases.
“It is senseless killing,” Sombathy said. “It doesn’t seem to be related by anything more than stupidity and drugs.”
While many of the accused are approaching their day in court, for some of the most recent victims, their surviving families have yet to see an arrest.
One of the city’s first shooting deaths in a string of summer slayings is rapidly approaching a court date. Notices of attorneys taking witness depositions in the murder case of 38-year-old Leonard Price was announced Monday by state prosecutors. The trial is scheduled for February.
Price, of Panama City, was shot multiple times in the chest and torso at close range in the yard of a Carver Road home early May 28. Residents of Roosevelt Drive reported hearing gunshots ring out at about 12:30 a.m.
Police wrongfully arrested 28-year-old Michael Ray Davis and charged him with the murder. The charges were dropped in August, and investigators filed second-degree murder charges against 33-year-old Stephen Trusty, Davis’ brother who had been living at the same residence. An unnamed eyewitness who had intimate knowledge of the crime scene identified Trusty as the suspected shooter, police said.
A series of competency evaluations slowed the trial’s progress. However, Trusty was deemed competent to proceed in November. Though a motive has not been released, prosecutors have said the shooting escalated from an argument over a bicycle while the parties involved were under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
A separate charge of tampering with a witness was filed against Trusty before depositions began. He was charged with allegedly threatening a family member of the witnesses. Trusty told the witness he would beat the murder charges — and anyone who cooperated with law enforcement, according to court documents.
The charge against Trusty would foreshadow the developments in the death investigation of 24-year-old Tavish Greene, who himself witnessed a shooting death.
Greene had been dead several days before July 24, when police found his body in the trunk of a white 2004 Chevy Malibu behind an abandoned home at 526 E. Eighth Court.
Family members said he had been receiving death threats before he disappeared July 20, but police were reluctant to release a missing persons report. PCPD was alerted to the vehicle at about 11 a.m. the day after BCSO issued a report. Inside the trunk, they found Green shot multiple times.
Police scrambled to make an arrest in the murder of a key witness they’d interviewed only about two months earlier.
Darryl Mack, 21, Tyricka Shavon Woullard, 20, and Dontavis Terrell Thomas, 22, were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit armed robbery for an alleged scheme. Mack and Woullard fled to Georgia as police discovered Greene’s decomposing body.
Police reports said the three suspects lured Greene to Woullard’s residence at 3710 W. 21st St., where they planned to rob him the morning of July 19. Thomas and Mack allegedly used phone calls and text messages to draw Greene into a trap through Woullard, his ex-girlfriend. The three hid inside, waiting to ambush Greene for money and illegal narcotics, police reported.
Since then, Thomas has pleaded no contest to charges of being an accessory to murder. He could receive a sentence of five years probation in exchange for his testimony against Woullard and Mack.
In a bizarre turn of events, prosecutors in the case demanded Mack’s previous attorney also testify against Mack for allegedly threatening to harm Thomas. The involved parties met Dec. 11 to hear the state’s case for disclosing the privileged attorney-client discussions, but that hearing has been sealed from public view.
Greene’s death was the crescendo in a building wave of gun violence, but it wouldn’t be the last.
Following the summer’s heated exchange of gun violence, the youngest group of individuals to be charged in connection to a shooting death was chased across the city.
Javares R. Cameron, 18, Capri Brooks, 14, and Isiah C. Grady, 15, were arrested and charged with a role in the killing of 17-year-old Curtis Hunt. He was shot in the head with a semi-automatic handgun while sitting outside a residence in the 200 block of Kraft Avenue on Oct. 15 at about 1:15 p.m. However, Panama City Police were seeking four suspects after the shooting.
The three suspects, all of Panama City, were arrested across town at the Royal Arms Garden Apartments on Balboa Avenue, while another suspect fled that area on foot and has not been seen by authorities since.
Hunt died from the gunshot wound at a local hospital later that evening. What motivated the shooting remains unclear, but police have stated they believe it was a “targeted attack of Hunt and not a random act of violence.”
Police have charged Cameron with an open count of murder, citing physical evidence and statements from the other suspects as cause to believe he fired the fatal shot.
According to arrest reports, Cameron’s shoe impressions were left on the roadside, approaching where officers discovered Hunt with a gunshot wound to the head. Cameron, Brooks, Grady and the fourth, unidentified suspect then fled the area in a blue Grand Marquis. Brooks allegedly took undisclosed evidence from the scene and, once apprehended, police found a firearm on him, authorities reported.
En route to the Royal Arms apartments, Grady allegedly overheard Cameron say: “I hit him,” Grady told police.
The two juveniles still are being prosecuted as such. Cameron is being held without bond, awaiting his day in court. He has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder.
The fourth suspected accomplice has not been tracked down.
Similar to the Kraft Avenue slaying, days later a suspect would elude police in the shooting death of Coleman. He also would be killed in what authorities called a “targeted attack.”
People in the neighborhood who declined to give their names said they heard several gunshots and came outside to find Coleman bleeding in the driveway of 705 E. 13th Court. He had been shot in the chest at about 8:45 p.m. at least once. Coleman was rushed to the hospital, where he died.
No arrests have been made.
Coleman’s death brought the toll of gun-related slayings to nine in Panama City, most of which were concentrated to two areas.
Chief Ervin declined to give a reason for the dramatic increase in gun-related violence within the city. However, he indicated that police will respond as needed to the coming year’s criminal trends.
“This year we saw an increase in some violent crime categories while others were down,” Ervin said. “We adjust our resources to respond to the crime trends as they emerge and will do so based on what trends we see next year.”
Read past stories in the series below:
Top 10 of 2014: