'He died because he was poor'

PINELLAS PARK — On the last day of his life, Dallas Carter sat down in his apartment and addressed a letter "TO Whom it my concert."

He was not a good speller and he could not read well, but the 44-year-old father stitched together, on green construction paper, the last will and testament of a poor man. It ran three pages, 380 words, and it began with the formality of a legal document.

I, Dallas D. Carter, ...

This was before the police arrived, before gunshots lit the night and the children fled apartment B28.

... buy the time you get this letter I will be gone or dead. it's not a good letter. sometime people do dump thing I'm not really a bad person Just life gets away from me sometime ...

Before that Saturday night, no one would have expected Dallas Carter to do what he did.

His neighbors knew a kind, soft-spoken man who used a cane or a walker when he helped his sons to the bus stop. He enjoyed sitting on his patio on long afternoons, smoking generic cigarettes to the filter, and striking up conversation with anyone who had time to talk.

He handled babies with gentle hands, and his friends never saw him hit his sons or drink more than a bottle or two of Bud Light. He had no criminal record, no combat demons, no strange tendencies to make his neighbors believe they were in danger.

Before that Saturday night, the Pinellas Park police had never been dispatched to his apartment.

... for me to have done some kind of criminal active things had to get really bad for me ...

His family moved from Illinois to Clearwater in 1974, when he was 10. He mowed lawns with his older brother for money, got a job at a pizza joint at 15, then an orange grove at 17. He stopped going to school in 10th grade, then went to work on a fishing boat out of John's Pass.

He barely knew his mother, and his relationship with his father was rocky at best. "He held a grudge against us," said his father, also named Dallas Carter. "He was jealous of my relationship with my older boy."

At 20, he moved back to Illinois to live with his uncle, but things did not work out.

"It seem like no matter were I live I had bad luck," he wrote in an eight-page biography he intended to turn into a book. "I had a bad truck wreck with semi-truck ... I had spent 2 weeks in a coma in the Hospital in Illinois state a few months went by now I'm 22 year old and live in group home in Illinois my family could not handled my bad luck with people. I have always like people some just don't under stand me."

He did meet one woman at the group home who understood him. They married in 1989, and lived in a run-down trailer outside Thompsonville, Ill.

"We would see deer and turkey all the time," he wrote in the biography. "That was nice to see that all time."

They moved back to Florida in the early 1990s, and she gave birth to their first child in 1994 in St. Petersburg.

He went to truck-driving school and got a job delivering beer, but that ended a few years later with a wreck on Interstate 275. The collision hurt his back, limiting his movement and his prospects.

... I'm on SSD i have had both of my hips replace. I did try to go back to work but I got hurt even more on the job. So I thought maybe i can go back to school but the VR said no to me about school ...

His wife gave birth again in 1999, and the family moved to Maine. Divorce records there show the two split in 2002, and Brenda Carter agreed that Dallas would care for their sons, Shawn and Chris. They earned less than $15,000 a year, records show, and the mother, who didn't return calls from the St. Petersburg Times, agreed to pay Dallas $78 a month in child support. In 2005, he and the boys moved back to Florida.

... I have to sons one is 8 years old my other is 13 year old. their mother live in Maine. if something go bad for me I'd my son's go to their mother in Maine ...

He took his boys fishing, cut their hair with electric clippers and taught them it was impolite to ask people for food, though sometimes they couldn't resist.

"They would come over here and ask me if I had any snacks or a sandwich," said Kna Krajan, 24, who lives in the building and whose children played with the boys. "But he would always tell the boys that he would go home and find something for them. He would say he really didn't want me to help him with his problems."

When he had a few dollars, he bought them pizza from the 7-Eleven up the road. One neighbor looked inside Dallas' refrigerator and found only water and frozen broccoli. His web of friends and neighbors pitched in with chicken and rice or noodles when the kids were hungry.

The boys slept without air-conditioning on bare mattresses, ate mayonnaise sandwiches and wore clothes that were tattered and too small. One neighbor's mother would go to garage sales and buy the boys toys. She left them on the doorstep at Christmas.

Despite their living conditions, Dallas had principles. Once, according a neighbor, one of his sons lost another boy's bike helmet. Dallas made his son fork over his Christmas money to pay for it.

... I'm sorry if I've done something wrong. if my sons are going to their mother in Maine please make sure the state is in their life ... their good boys. I have even try to get state help with food + Bills the Bills that I pay are like 15 bill's each month. I can't do it no more I need help so I'm sorry if i do something wrong. all I'm trying to do is paid some bill's ...

He wore a tattoo of a scorpion on his left arm, above his birth date: Nov. 8, 1963. The birth was nearly fatal for mother and child, said his father, who is 68.

"It was a slow birth," he said. "That boy got stuck in the birth canal, and it cut the oxygen to his brain for too long." His father noticed the effects. Dallas was slower than other kids, and he had terrible nightmares.

"He'd wake up at night screaming, and pushing his hands up in the air like something was on top of him," his father said. "I'd ask him why he was doing that. He'd say, 'It was on top of me.' I'd say, 'What was?' He'd say, 'I don't know.' "

... I need about $6,000 to paid off bill's. I have try to get a job but then me have both hip's replace no one is will to get me a job. I have 5 Discs in my back that is bad all so. ...

Most Americans spent their government rebate checks on vacations, consumer electronics, home improvements and groceries, according to Nielsen.

When Dallas Carter received his economic stimulus check, he paid off an electric bill and a debt to Amscot Financial, then went on a poor man's shopping spree. He bought his sons a small air-hockey table and a used punching bag from Play It Again Sports. He bought a table and chair for his patio and a set of teeth to cover his gums.

"He was so proud of those teeth," said Melissa Velez, 27, who lived across the hall and helped him read his mail. "He came over here smiling and mumbling because he wasn't used to them. I said, 'Wow, you look great.' He said, 'Now I can find me a date.' "

He found an ad in the newspaper and bought himself a CharGriller Smokin' Pro, retail $179. He put it in the center of his patio and invited the neighbors to watch it work.

"He loved his grill," said Krajan. "He cooked on that every time he had something to cook."

"He'd let me borrow his smoker," said Chad White, 34, who used to live in the building. "I'd put some meat on and he'd come out there and just shoot the breeze."

"That was his pride and joy," said Velez.

... I Don't know that I'm doing now!! ...

Neighbors noticed a difference in Dallas Carter in the last few weeks. He was too broke to smoke. The power company cut off his electric for a few days. He fell behind on his water bill. He told several neighbors he had gotten an eviction notice. The apartment management refused to confirm this.

He seemed tired, desperate and lonely. His conversations ended only when his acquaintances walked away or closed their doors.

"He felt like his family had abandoned him, like everyone had," said Krajan. "Nobody would help him."

He told friends that his food stamp allotment had been reduced. He told Velez that his wife refused to take the boys. He told Krajan that school was coming, and he didn't have money to buy his sons supplies or new clothes.

He spoke of putting as much gas as he could into his old van and heading north until he couldn't go any further.

She asked where he wanted to go.

He did not know.

... hopefully my son's are not with me went i do something dump ...

The night before he wrote the note, a neighbor noticed Dallas Carter standing in front of his apartment building, dazed, mumbling under his breath, staring at the sky.

The following day, he broke into a bottle of Jose Cuervo, and, when the boys were asleep, a few minutes before 11 p.m. on July 19, Dallas Carter made his final call for help.

911, what's your emergency?

I've got a .40 caliber pistol beside my head and I'm drunk.

Okay, sir, have you done anything to hurt yourself?

I've drunk tequila and beer and I've got two kids in the house.

Okay sir, well, can you put the pistol down and tell me the address where you're at?

I've overdone it.

Sir, what is the address where you're at?

I'm tired of living. I'm tired of dealing with this bull, and I can't handle it no more.

Sir, what is the address where you're at?

I need help. I'm ready to die.

A few moments later, the line went dead. Then calls began to pour in to 911.

911, what is your emergency?

Hi, uh, somebody's shooting outside.

911, what is your emergency?

Um, yes, I think there's, um, gunfire in our apartment area.

911, what is your emergency?

Yeah, hi, um, I'm calling because I believe gunshots are going off, um, in an apartment complex next to my home. I hear people screaming.

911, what is your emergency?

A guy's freaking out and I think he's shooting a gun or something, I don't know.

911, what is your emergency?

Um, we're hearing lots and lots of gunfire.

911, what is your emergency?

Okay, we're in Shadow Run apartments ... the guy's out there screaming and shooting and ...

Police say the crippled man fired at least 30 shots with a .30-30 rifle and a .40 caliber pistol out the rear of his apartment. Some of the bullets struck a thick wall and a factory building adjacent to the complex.

Most of the shots appeared to be concentrated on the CharGriller Smokin' Pro on his patio.

When police arrived, Shawn and Chris ran from the apartment. A negotiator with a bullhorn approached the building and tried to communicate with the man inside.

At 11:32 p.m., Dallas Carter emerged from his front door carrying the pistol in one hand, the rifle in the other. He faced the police officers and raised his weapons.

• • •

What made Dallas Carter unravel?

"When he lived with us, when he was eating pretty good, he was okay," said his father, who worked for the Illinois department of corrections and saw how a good meal could change a new inmate. "When your nourishment is deficient, your brain doesn't function properly."

"He died because he was poor," said Nancy Velez, whose daughter lives in B26. "He had no means of getting help. He wasn't out stealing or robbing, he was trying to survive."

"It's sickening," said Chad White. "There's so many people out there in the same situation."

Neighbors placed $5.99 bouquets of mums and spray roses behind Dallas Carter's apartment, beneath the shredded grill he bought with his government check. It will be his only memorial. His family has refused to pay for a burial. Per county protocol, his body will be cremated and his ashes scattered over the Gulf of Mexico at a cost to taxpayers of $512.

His sons were handed over to their mother, who still resides in Maine. Their grandfather saw them a final time on Thursday. He told them to call if they ever need help.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy and staff writer Anne Lindberg contributed to this report. Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8650.

'He died because he was poor' 07/26/08 [Last modified: Saturday, August 2, 2008 5:36pm]

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