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Suit calls security gaps lethal

NEW PORT RICHEY — Adam Calcote was living at Carlton Arms of Magnolia Valley apartments with his girlfriend when he murdered another woman there in 2004. He went to trial in 2005, was convicted and is serving life in prison.

Now Carlton Arms is on trial.

The mother of Kim Delancey, who was raped and smothered after spending an evening with Calcote, sued the apartment company alleging wrongful death. Sandy Delancey says security breaches at the Rowan Road complex led to her daughter's murder. Calcote was not on the lease at his girlfriend's apartment, which enabled him to avoid the required background check that might have revealed he was using a fake name and had an out-of-state arrest warrant for arson.

The civil trial got under way Tuesday. The first witness: Calcote.

Shackled at the wrists and wearing jail garb, he took the stand and answered questions from both sides' lawyers about his living situation when Delancey was killed — key to proving whether he was an unauthorized occupant who should have been detected and kicked out as the plaintiff contends, or an invited guest as the defense says.

Calcote said he lived with his girlfriend but also spent time at his parents' house. He kept clothes and a PlayStation game console at Carlton Arms, but most of his belongings and his drum set were at his parents'.

"I would stay wherever I felt like at the time," he said. "I had two homes."

He acknowledged he didn't sign himself to the lease or put any bills in his name, but he did have a key. He said he sometimes spoke to security guards and maintenance people from Carlton Arms, and none ever challenged his right to be there.

When asked why he was using an assumed name at the time, Calcote invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself because, he said, he is appealing his murder conviction.

On Dec. 4, 2004, while his girlfriend was out of town, Calcote struck up a conversation with Delancey, a special education teacher who lived next door. They spent several hours talking, laughing and drinking. Attorneys said Delancey left at one point to buy more beer and cigarettes and later went inside Calcote's apartment with him. The night ended tragically when Calcote raped and smothered the 27-year-old woman.

High-profile attorney Barry Cohen represents Sandy Delancey. Cohen won a similar award several years ago in the case of a college student who was kidnapped and shot in the head by three men who sneaked in through the gate of her Tampa apartment complex by piggybacking in behind a resident. The jury in that case awarded the woman $15.7 million in total damages. Higher courts later upheld the verdict.

In opening statements Tuesday, Cohen told the jury that Carlton Arms presented itself as a safe community when Delancey signed her lease — a security handbook for residents, background checks for every renter, a guardhouse at the front entrance.

But he said the company had no policy for dealing with so-called unauthorized occupants — people who move in with residents and avoid detection or screening.

"They had no policies whatsoever to identify people who come into these apartment complexes and do what Mr. Reade was doing here," Cohen said, referring to Calcote by the fake name he had been using.

Cohen said he plans to put on an expert who will testify about what a common problem such unauthorized occupants are in apartment complexes, and that Calcote was a textbook case.

"Security was not in their vocabulary," Cohen said. "They didn't really have security."

But Brandon Scheele, an attorney for Carlton Arms, countered that Delancey's murder was an unforeseeable tragedy, and the fault of only one party: Calcote.

"A resident's boyfriend who was an invited guest on the property spent the day with his neighbor drinking on the balcony and committed a crime inside the apartment," Scheele said.

"How is that the fault of the apartment complex?"

Sandy Delancey also took the witness stand Tuesday, saying she went with her daughter to check out the complex and make sure it was safe. She was satisfied, she said, when the leasing agent told her the area was fenced off with only one guarded entrance and maintenance people who keep watch from golf carts during the day.

"We wanted a place that we felt she was going to be secure," Delancey, fighting back tears, said of her only child.

The trial is expected to last more than a week.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6245.

Suit calls security gaps lethal 08/17/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 17, 2010 9:10pm]
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