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Bus driver charged with manslaughter in fatal shooting on Valrico basketball court

TAMPA — After two days of public outcry, Hillsborough County deputies arrested a 69-year-old man Tuesday on a manslaughter charge in the fatal shooting of an Air Force veteran on a Valrico basketball court.

School bus driver Trevor Dooley was led in handcuffs from his home on Partridge Point Trail and booked into the Hillsborough County jail.

Sheriff's deputies say he shot David James, 41, who had been playing basketball with his 8-year-old daughter Sunday afternoon. The confrontation started over a teenage boy skateboarding on the neighborhood court.

Dooley, who is not cooperating with authorities and has made no statement about the incident, also faces charges of improper exhibition of a firearm and openly carrying a firearm, the Sheriff's Office said.

Kanina James, widow of the victim, said she was pleased by the arrest but said the manslaughter charge is inadequate.

"I want it to be first-degree murder," she said.

The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office ultimately determines what charges will be filed, and spokesman Mark Cox said he couldn't discuss the decision.

Dooley could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted of manslaughter.

About 3:45 p.m. Sunday, as James played basketball with his daughter, a 14-year-old boy asked him if it was okay to skateboard on the court. James told him that was fine.

Dooley, who apparently had been watching the exchange from inside his home across the street, marched outside with a gun in his waistband to demand that the skateboarder get off the court, the Sheriff's Office said.

James defended the boy, so Dooley started arguing with him. Dooley turned to walk away, and that's when James yelled after him, questioning him about the gun sticking out of his pants, the Sheriff's Office said.

Dooley turned back and pulled out the gun, deputies said.

James lunged toward Dooley in an apparent attempt to disarm him and they struggled, falling to the ground. The gun fired, striking James in the chest.

"The suspect fired the gun," said Chief Deputy Jose Docobo. "There's no indication the victim pulled the trigger."

He didn't say if detectives believe Dooley intentionally fired.

Before the struggle for the weapon, there was no physical confrontation, Docobo said, clarifying the agency's position that the shooting would not be defensible under Florida's "stand your ground" law.

In fact, it appears James was defending himself — not the other way around, Docobo said.

"The victim wasn't armed. There was no indication he was armed," Docobo said. "It's apparent from the interviews that he was at least trying to defend himself, if not trying to disarm Mr. Dooley at the same time."

Investigators found a pocket knife at the scene, but deputies don't believe it belonged to James. They're not sure how it got there, Docobo said.

Although the killing happened Sunday, and investigators tried to talk with Dooley that night, the first time the Sheriff's Office named him as the suspect was Tuesday.

It was a tough investigation, deputies have said, because witness accounts varied and Dooley wouldn't speak to investigators.

He immediately invoked his right to remain silent and got an attorney — Ronald Tulin, his neighbor a few cul-de-sacs down in the Twin Lakes subdivision, which is south of State Road 60.

Tulin said Tuesday he wasn't ready to comment.

Authorities said they had been investigating who pulled the trigger and whether the shooting was justified.

On Monday, they interviewed the 8-year-old girl who had seen her father get shot. They also spoke with a witness who was playing tennis nearby.

James' wife, and other neighbors, couldn't understand why Dooley wasn't arrested right away. Docobo said he understands why people might have been upset.

"From an emotional standpoint, it's difficult to understand why someone who brings a gun to a park and shoots and kills someone isn't arrested," Docobo said. "We have to let cool heads prevail and not let emotions cloud our judgment."

Jay Lovelace, who was David James' commander while he served in Iraq and was helping the family, said Tuesday the couple's daughter has been crying, unable to sleep and asking about the shooting.

On the way to a McDonald's, Lovelace said, they had passed a basketball court. "That's a basketball court like the one where my daddy was shot," he recalled she had said.

Several neighbors said they hope Tuesday's arrest will bring some peace back to the neighborhood.

"A firearm should have never been brought out," said neighbor George Carroll, 38. "Bringing a pistol to scare the skateboarders — that's just not right."

The morning after the shooting, the St. Petersburg Times was the first to report, Dooley had returned to work as a Hillsborough school bus driver.

The Sheriff's Office hadn't notified the school district of Dooley's connection to the shooting, outraging some School Board members when they found out.

"We screwed up. It's just that simple," Docobo said.

He said the Sheriff's Office had no legal obligation to tell the district, since Dooley had not been named as a suspect yet, but noted it should have happened anyway.

"I think common sense should have prevailed here," he said.

Dooley and his wife, Patricia, who also drives a bus for the school district, called in to work sick Tuesday morning, said district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe.

She said that because of his arrest, Trevor Dooley will be put on paid leave pending evaluation by the human resources department, a common course of action when employees are arrested.

Times news researcher John Martin and staff writer Danny Valentine contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at or (813) 226-3433.

Bus driver charged with manslaughter in fatal shooting on Valrico basketball court 09/28/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 29, 2010 1:03pm]
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