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Fatal Twin Lakes shooting shatters a family — and a neighborhood's peace

VALRICO — If you don't know where to look, you might not notice the three tiny American flags in a shady spot by the park.

You might see a few guys shooting hoops and a couple playing tennis. Maybe you'll watch teenage daredevils practicing aerials and flip tricks and slides on their skateboards.

Maybe you won't give it a second glance.

But there's a reason fewer trick-or-treaters visited the end of Partridge Point Trail this year. And there's a reason some mothers have been keeping their kids closer to home.

The flags are proof: Twin Lakes hasn't forgotten David James.

Authorities say James, a 41-year-old Air Force veteran, was shot and killed by neighbor Trevor Dooley during an argument over a skateboarder while James was playing basketball with his daughter. Dooley now awaits trial on a manslaughter charge.

As far as other neighbors can tell, Dooley hasn't returned home since a judge ordered him to stay away.

But for many in the gated community at the end of Blooming­dale Avenue, fear and anger remain.

Jessica Manns' kids used to call the neatly manicured cul-de-sac down the street from their house "the back park." Now she won't let them mention it, and she certainly won't let them visit.

Manns knows it seems overprotective, but with her husband in the Air Force stationed thousands of miles away, she doesn't care. Her three daughters, 14-year-old Leigha and 12-year-old twins Allyson and Brianna, know not to argue.

"They understand that mommy's a little bit of a, well, I grab hold and sometimes don't let go," Manns said. "It's just been unnerving to have had to go through all that. We're new here."

After the family unpacked in May, Manns activated a security system. Neighbors laughed.

It's quiet in Twin Lakes, they said.

Now, even though everybody says what happened Sept. 26 was an anomaly, Manns punches the code in every night.

"I know it was just this single weird incident, and I don't foresee anybody else pulling out guns down there, but I don't know," Manns said. "I just don't know."

Neighbor Tahnee Blauser, who has two young sons and two young daughters, felt the same way at first.

But after the shock wore off, Blauser said she decided that one "freak thing" wouldn't stop her kids from using the nice park funded by their neighborhood dues.

"My boys asked what happened, and we explained it to them," she said. "We used it as a teaching tool: Be careful; be aware of your surroundings."

It would be a different story if Dooley still lived down the street, Blauser said. But with him gone for now, Blauser said, in some ways she feels safer than before.

"It brought the neighbors closer together," she said. "We watch out for each other."

Carolyn Mourey, who lives alone, said she has lost that feeling.

Mourey, whose house faces the James home, said she always thought of David James, an amateur body builder, as a protector.

When a strange man followed Mourey home one day, she pulled into James' driveway and watched the stranger drive off as James waved.

When something went wrong with her home, James was there to fix it.

"Now it's like, gosh, I don't have anybody to go to," Mourey said.

She still struggles to understand what happened, but one thing gives her comfort.

"I believe that he (James) saw that gun, and he knew there were kids and other people around, and he was protecting them," Mourey said. "Him going out that way, it's the way he was. You know?"

It's a sentiment that echoes in the quiet neighborhood.

'He died for something'

It's 4 p.m., and the sounds of wheels on pavement whir along Twin Lakes' streets. Skateboards, RipStiks, bicycles, scooters: The kids take turns with them all.

A month ago, they might not have been so cavalier, especially when they reached the smoothest surface they've found in the community: the basketball court.

"We definitely don't get anyone out here yelling at us anymore," said 16-year-old skateboarder Bill Myers at the court recently. "Sometimes now parents will come out and ask, 'Hey, what's that trick?' or 'How do you do that?' "

Before James died, skateboarders were shooed off sidewalks and the basketball court regularly, Myers said. He estimated he'd been yelled at least two-dozen times by Dooley alone.

Now, after the shooting, Myers said it seems people are more sympathetic to the teens.

'I don't want to let go'

In a house across from the park, Kanina James distracts herself by watching movies and playing with the family's three dogs, trying to stay strong for the kids.

"It's just day to day. Moment to moment," Kanina said of losing her husband.

It hasn't gotten easier.

The other day, Kanina finally bagged up a bunch of her husband's old clothes to donate to Goodwill.

But she has yet to drop them off. The thought of this stuff on hangers with other cast-off jeans and jackets makes her sick.

Part of her still expects James to come walking through the front door, like he did so many times after returning from active duty in faraway countries.

But the American flag urn on the entryway table reminds her that he won't.

So she forces herself to live in memories, to look at pictures even though they make her cry.

James' motorcycle still sits in the garage. His exercise machine collects dust in the living room. Souvenirs he brought back from tours in the Middle East are scattered around the house.

"Everything that I look at, I see him," Kanina said.

As she talks, she fiddles with James' wedding ring on a chain around her neck.

Kanina and James met in 1996 in Las Vegas. She was a cocktail waitress at a country-western bar. He was there on temporary duty for the Air Force, and his warm smile caught her attention.

"I said to his friend, 'Who's that?' " Kanina remembered.

They married two years later at a little restaurant in Salt Lake City, where James was stationed. Garrett, Kanina's son from a previous marriage, was 3, and "David was so great with him."

When Danielle was born three years later, James "bonded with her immediately."

He bought Danielle her own pair of motorcycle boots and her own basketball. He read her books and helped her with puzzles. He called her "his little Chuggabugga."

The family moved around a lot when the kids were young — Utah, Wisconsin, Montana. Finally, when James retired three years ago, they came to Florida and settled in Twin Lakes.

"Everything was so storybook. The lawns were perfect, everybody kept their houses up. People were walking, riding bikes, walking their dogs. Everybody said 'hi' to each other," Kanina said. "It felt very safe."

Kanina is thankful they spent a lot of time outside, getting to know the people along their street.

"I don't know what I would do if I was here alone and didn't have my neighbors," Kanina said of coping with her husband's death. "I would've crawled in bed and not gotten out."

They'll be with the neighbors on Thanksgiving. For Christmas, Kanina plans to take the kids some place new, maybe Jamaica. But she's not expecting happy times.

The other day, Danielle asked her mother how she could get to heaven to be with Daddy. It brought Kanina to tears.

"I just keep telling her that Daddy's taking care of her," Kanina said.

Garrett's dealing with it in his own way, trying to be strong, Kanina said. He seems proud of his dad.

"He was a hero," Kanina said of James. "He was in all the wars since Desert Storm … he was in some very scary places. But he was home here, where you think he'd be safe, and then that happened."

No one home

Two days after the shooting, deputies arrested Trevor Dooley, and a judge ordered him not to return to his Twin Lakes home.

Since then, Dooley, described by a relative as a "quiet, unassuming, intelligent man," resigned from his job as a Hillsborough County school bus driver. He has turned over his concealed weapons permit to authorities.

At Dooley's first court appearance in September, his brother-in-law, Desmond Langdon, asked that the public give Dooley his due process before judging him. His next court hearing is scheduled for Dec. 2.

Attempts to reach Dooley and his family were unsuccessful.

No one answers the door to the lemon-yellow house with the white trim on Partridge Point Trail. No cars sit in the driveway. The blinds are closed.

At the basketball court, two young men pass and dribble a ball.

At the edge, a skateboarder tries to find balance.

Kim Wilmath can be reached at (813) 661-2442 or kwilmath@sptimes.com.

Fatal Twin Lakes shooting shatters a family — and a neighborhood's peace 11/18/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 23, 2010 9:44pm]
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