Sunday, June 17, 2018
News Roundup

Standing up to domestic violence

CLEARWATER

Melissa Dohme felt the first stab in her shoulder. Another in her neck.

But it wasn't until the switchblade sliced into the skin and bone near her right ear that she realized this was real.

The "sweetest guy I ever met," her high school sweetheart who'd once treated her like a queen, her first love — he wanted her to die. Police say Dohme's ex-boyfriend, Robert Lee Burton Jr., stabbed her 32 times in the Jan. 24 attack.

But nine months later, the 20-year-old Clearwater woman is thriving despite flat-lining four times and suffering a stroke so severe that doctors thought she'd never walk without a cane.

She told about 500 attendees at the Faces of Domestic Violence luncheon Thursday at Clearwater's Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church that she's thankful to be alive and to help others prevent a similar fate — or worse.

"I'm speaking for them as they are now silent witnesses," Dohme said, pointing around the room at cardboard silhouettes representing this year's domestic violence homicide victims.

"God spared my voice and I'm going to make sure I use it and put an end to violence."

Hosted by the Haven at RCS, the luncheon was the Clearwater shelter's 11th annual one highlighting Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Given the wealth of available resources, organizers say, it's senseless that one in four women should experience domestic violence.

"It's something that's 100 percent preventable," said RCS chief executive officer Caitlin Higgins Joy. "Survivors need to know help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

This year's luncheon came on the heels of information that Pinellas County law enforcement this year has documented a record-breaking number of domestic violence homicides — 11 so far compared with six last year.

In 69 percent of the 103 homicide cases the Pinellas County Domestic Violence Task Force has examined over the years, loved ones knew about violence within the relationship before the killing, but remained silent.

About 50 people attended a free "Be a Better Bystander" training sponsored Tuesday by the task force to teach the public to recognize signs that their loved ones are victims of domestic abuse and to equip them with tools to intervene.

Advocates at both events also took aim at common misconceptions about domestic abuse. For example, experts say, the phenomenon crosses socioeconomic lines, educational background and gender.

Dohme, Thursday's keynote speaker, said her story is a perfect example that stereotypes don't apply.

A rapt audience of church and business leaders, police officials, civic organization representatives and domestic violence survivors sat silent as Dohme, a Clearwater High graduate, described how her relationship with Burton was "perfect" until she began experiencing college life without him.

She said Burton's lying, name-calling and baseless accusations about flirting with other men — "I just thought he was acting like a jerk" — eventually gave way to physical violence and threats to kill her, her mother and himself if she didn't comply.

"He said he had nothing to live for except me," Dohme said. "I learned to act happy and pretend so I would live."

Burton was eventually arrested on charges of assaulting her. By last January, the couple had broken up and seemingly moved on — Burton had a new girlfriend — when Dohme's ex came to her house at 2:30 in the morning and begged to talk. When she relented and went outside, police say she was stabbed. A teenage couple passing by interrupted the attack and called 911.

Burton is charged with first-degree attempted murder.

Until her attack, Dohme said she didn't realize domestic violence was so prevalent. In September, the Haven volunteer became a certified advocate through the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

"People think domestic violence happens to poor, uneducated women. And I'm here 20 years old, a college student and I am the face of domestic violence," said Dohme, a pre-nursing student at St. Petersburg College.

Two Clearwater paramedics who responded to the 911 call about Dohme's stabbing, Cameron Hill and Hieu Tran, surprised Dohme at Thursday's luncheon.

"It's amazing. She's the true hero here, shedding light on domestic violence. We're just a small fraction," Tran said. "When we got there, we knew she was a fighter."

Dohme's speech inspired Pinellas sheriff's Sgt. Phoebe Schlager, whose mother, niece and great niece were killed in a Virginia domestic violence incident in April.

Media reports say Travis Williams killed his wife, their 14-month-old daughter and his wife's grandmother before setting the home ablaze and dying in a gunfight with police.

Schlager says she and other relatives had advised her niece, a college-educated teacher, on ways to leave. But they never imagined her husband was capable of such violence. Schlager's family is pushing for legislation in Virginia that would require people who are under domestic violence injunctions to wear an ankle monitor.

"It was very emotional for me watching the speakers today," Schlager said. "Just giving (Dohme) a hug made it all worthwhile to see that people do survive."

Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Comments
Rays lose again to Yankees, this time 4-1

Rays lose again to Yankees, this time 4-1

NEW YORK — Kevin Cash was not going to go all Lou Piniella on his Rays, raging and ripping and roaring over their latest mess, a 4-1 Saturday loss to the Yankees that didn't feel that close.Which is too bad because Piniella, the volcanic former...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Lottery resultsNumbers drawn after 9 p.m. are no longer available by our deadlines. For results, please go to tampabay.com/lottery.Pick 2, 3, 4, 5Sun., June 17, midday:xx xxx xxxxe_SRitxxxxxSun., June 17, evening:xx xxx xxxxe_SRitxxxxxFantasy 5Sunday...
Updated: 10 hours ago
They fled Puerto Rico with their possessions, which they lost last week in an apartment fire

They fled Puerto Rico with their possessions, which they lost last week in an apartment fire

RIVERVIEW — It was the most routine of errands, shopping for a cooler and some shorts.Joel Jaca and Arelys Gomez, both 40, had turned an important corner, miles away from hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.They had finally gotten out of their relief hotel...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Peering into the crystal baseball to see what Rays could look like in 2019

Peering into the crystal baseball to see what Rays could look like in 2019

The Rays are still talking, as they should, about playing for something this season. The reality is that almost every move they've made, going back to the end of last season, and in some cases further, has been about 2019 and beyond.Clearing out vete...
Updated: 11 hours ago

Updated: 12 hours ago
Mazzaro’s Italian Market closed after Friday night warehouse fire

Mazzaro’s Italian Market closed after Friday night warehouse fire

ST. PETERSBURG — Mazzaro’s Italian Market will be closed throughout the weekend after a warehouse fire broke out Friday.A St. Petersburg Police officer noticed smoke coming from the market at 22nd Ave. N around midnight Friday, said St. Petersburg F...
Published: 06/16/18
Catholic diocese celebrates 50 years in Tampa Bay and forges plan for the future

Catholic diocese celebrates 50 years in Tampa Bay and forges plan for the future

ST. PETERSBURG — At his installation as spiritual leader of Tampa Bay’s Catholics, Bishop Gregory Parkes promised to take time to get to know his people, listen to what they had to say and work to discern a plan for the future.On Sunday, 17 months la...
Published: 06/16/18
A fentanyl death. A crackdown on opioid dealers. Will it help?

A fentanyl death. A crackdown on opioid dealers. Will it help?

TAMPA — Loueita Hargens had known for years how her son Bradley Dykes would die. She had seen him cycle through drugs of choice, had lost track of the number of times he’d wound up in the hospital or prison.A recovering alcoholic herself, she cut him...
Published: 06/16/18
AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

Since 2002, the AP World History course has covered thousands of years of human activity around the planet, starting 10,000 years back. But now the College Board, which owns the Advanced Placement program, wants to cut out most of that history and st...
Published: 06/16/18
A woman went to check her corn - and was swallowed by a python

A woman went to check her corn - and was swallowed by a python

For the second time in barely more than a year, an Indonesian villager has been swallowed whole by a python.Wa Tiba, 54, left her home on Muna island to visit her cornfield on Thursday night, according to the Jakarta Post.The field was about a half m...
Published: 06/16/18