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Witnesses recall chaos at fatal Riverview graduation party

TAMPA — At the 2010 high school graduation party in Riverview, the kids had guns and the chaperones had guns. When the shooting started at 1 a.m., "we hit the dirt," student Ashley Dean recalled Tuesday in court.

"It seemed like shots came from everywhere."

One senior lay dead, and another student and parent were wounded.

A jury is trying to find its way through the chaos of that night. Only one youth is standing trial. Khayri McCray, now 19, originally was accused of murder, but that charge was dropped. He now faces three counts of attempted murder.

Tuesday, jurors heard conflicting testimony as to how Devante Dallas, 18, a senior celebrating his graduation from Durant High School, died from a bullet to his chest and how others were wounded.

Dallas' cousin said he saw McCray and a second gunman with dreadlocks each fire. A chaperone identified McCray as the shooter. Some others said they saw only the youth with dreadlocks firing rounds. Another chaperone admitted firing his own gun at a fleeing car.

Everyone agrees that the trouble started with a fist fight during a mobbed party at the Winthrop Barn and Theater on May 23, 2010. McCray, a student from Spoto High School, was said to have suffered a cut over his nose. Chaperones had checked everyone in the barn for guns, but apparently there were plenty of weapons in cars.

Chaperone George Bianco, who said he is a former military counter-terrorism expert, testified that he wore his own .40-caliber pistol that night, but it never left his holster.

After the fist fight spilled outside, Bianco said, he heard gunfire from a field next to the Barn. He saw kids running. A white car sped past, he said, nearly hitting him, and stopped outside the barn.

Bianco said he saw McCray lean across the car roof and fire three shots toward the crowd.

"There was no hesitation."

He said the white car then sped away. He chased McCray through parked cars. The white car came back, he said, and McCray jumped through a passenger window.

Bianco found Dallas dying. He said he held Dallas and begged, "Hang on! Hang on!"

Junior Hernandez, a second armed chaperone, was inside the hall and didn't see Dallas shot but heard gunfire. When he got outside, he said, he saw someone with a gun leap through the window of a fleeing car. The chaperone pulled out his own pistol and fired twice.

Others said they witnessed gunfire, but not as the chaperones described.

Jermonte Hugee, 19, Dallas' cousin, said he and Dallas had been cornered by six young people on the side of the barn.

One was McCray, who had been part of the fighting inside. Hugee said McCray and a young man with dreadlocks had returned, each with a gun. The guy in dreadlocks fired first. Hugee said the bullet just missed him. Then he saw McCray fire. Dallas had been shot, but Hugee said, "I don't know whose bullets hit who."

He didn't see a white car or see McCray fire into the crowd.

Students Ashley Dean and Alia Corso offered another version. After the fight started, they said McCray and the guy with dreadlocks hurried to the car. They said the person with dreadlocks got a gun and began firing toward the barn.

But after the first shots, they said gunfire erupted everywhere. They dove into their car and kept their heads down. They never saw McCray with a gun. "I thought I would die," Corso said.

CORRECTION: Earlier versions of this story incorrectly characterized Jermonte Hugee's recollection of Khayri McCray's involvement and gave the wrong last name for the victim.

Witnesses recall chaos at fatal Riverview graduation party 03/06/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 8:49am]
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