Thursday, December 14, 2017
Public safety

Woman run over in parking space had a bright life dimmed by drugs and alcohol


When Raymond Schaefer sat down to drink his coffee Thursday morning, he didn't expect to see his new friend's photo in the newspaper.

It was there, he learned, because she had been run over and killed as she slept in a carport parking space.

"When I first saw it, I actually cried," Schaefer, 52, said. "I was upset. I was sort of blaming myself."

Henrietta Regina Dickson, 55, had moved into Schaefer's apartment a few weeks ago while she searched for a new place. She had just lost her job at Tropicana Field, where the two met cleaning the stadium.

Schaefer didn't know much about his new friend, about the former life she may have had. He didn't even know her last name.

He said friends joked she looked like Rhea Perlman from the sitcom Cheers. She had a vivacious personality, loved the Rays and was quick to share her Ice Breakers mints and Werther's Original candies.

"She was just fun to be around," he said, "except when she was drinking."

It had been several days since Schaefer last heard from Dickson, when he asked her to take her belongings and leave. He is a recovering alcoholic. She had come home drunk and belligerent.

Thursday morning, in the lines of the newspaper, Schaefer learned her fate. Police said Dickson had either passed out or fallen asleep in a carport parking space sometime Tuesday night at the Palm Garden Condo Complex, 5372 Fourth St. N, about 10 blocks from Schaefer's apartment. Later, Fathima K. Masud, 59, pulled her 2002 Daewoo Leganza into the spot, which is assigned to her, and unknowingly drove over Dickson, pinning her under the car.

Masud told police she felt a small bump while parking, but when she got out of the car, she found a large tote bag behind her front left tire and assumed it had caused the jolt. Masud set aside the tote and retired to her home.

Dickson's body wasn't found until the next morning, when a passer-by saw a hand peeking from beneath Masud's car. The woman could only be seen from the front of the vehicle.

Dickson was pronounced dead Wednesday morning.

Masud is not facing any charges, but police suspect Dickson may have been using drugs, alcohol or both.

Police said Dickson was found with an empty black leather purse and two tote bags, containing $16.29 in cash, four cellphones, makeup, shampoo, prescription medication, old tax returns and job applications, evidence of her fringe lifestyle.

Dickson wasn't always that way.

She was born in Highland Park, Ill., to Vincent and Carol Dickson, the youngest of four children.

"She was always the most popular and beloved of all of the siblings," said her brother David Dickson, 58, who lives in Chicago. "She was the one who got the attention, who got the love, who lit up a room."

When they were children, their parents divorced. Carol Dickson moved to Paris and Henrietta and David followed.

He said he remembers setting up a lemonade stand with her on a bridge across the river Seine in downtown Paris. He collected the money, she attracted the customers.

She went to private grade school and earned a degree from American College in Paris. Later, she returned to Florida, where her father was living and earned a master's in business administration from Florida International University in Miami.

Dickson loved fashion and dreamed of pursuing a career in the perfume and fragrance industry.

She was fluent in French, spoke conversational Spanish and knew some Italian.

She was successful, David Dickson said, until her late 20s.

"She was a young lady who had every possible advantage and then something happened," he said, voice trailing, "and I don't even know what."

In 1989, her father died from a heart attack. Soon after the family realized how bad her drug and alcohol abuse had gotten. Henrietta had moved to Florida's west coast. The family sent money to help her earn certifications for the different jobs she drifted between. In 2006, she married Ruben Velez, a registered sex offender. She was arrested for battery and drunken driving.

At one point, family helped her into a rehabilitation program in Tampa, which she completed. She got a new job, but then slipped again.

David Dickson said their relationship, once warm and full of love, had turned cold in recent years. Henrietta exchanged occasional text messages and phone calls with her siblings, but most were negative.

Whatever her demons were, her brother said, it seemed they got worse over time.

Henrietta Dickson will be cremated and family members will travel to Florida for a small, private memorial service.

"The way she died is just horrible. How that could have happened, I don't exactly understand. We just hope she's in a better place now," he said. "We stayed in touch. We tried. We just couldn't find a way."

Times news researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report.

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Published: 12/14/17