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26 year later, Pasco County fugitive faces his past

One March night 26 years ago, during a low-key party at a house in Holiday, tempers got hot.

Several people were drinking beers and listening to music in the living room when one guy started yelling at a girl, and then another guy got involved, until the party host had had enough.

David Dobbins Jr., who went by "Buddy," lived in the house on Golden Nugget Drive with his dad, David Sr., who was out of town for work.

Dobbins, 20, told one of the fighting men, Phillip Colbert, to leave. He'd never met Colbert before that night.

Colbert resisted, so Dobbins dragged him out the door by his shirt. Colbert, according to the court case file from 1983, started crying and told Dobbins, "You're in trouble now. I'm going to get my brother."

• • •

Late last month, law enforcement officials in Bates County, Mo., about 60 miles south of Kansas City, learned that a fugitive named Hugh Brown was living in a house on County Road 4501. Brown was wanted on several assault charges, according to a Kansas City TV report. Investigators with the Bates County Sheriff's Office apparently knew the name was an alias; they shipped his fingerprints to the FBI.

Three days later they learned his real name, Douglas Scott Miller, and that he was wanted in Pasco County, too.

• • •

Within 20 minutes of being thrown out of the party, Colbert was back at the house on Golden Nugget Drive, as promised, with his brother.

Douglas Miller (actually Colbert's stepbrother) pushed his way through the front door, pulled a gun from behind his back and said, "Freeze, police!"

Dobbins dashed into his father's bedroom to get his gun from a desk, according to court documents. But Miller was on him, pressing his gun against Dobbins' head.

Then Miller grabbed Dobbins' gun and pushed him through the house.

"He got to the front door, and he told me that I was dead again because I was trying to stall, and he pulled the hammer back on my father's revolver," Dobbins said in a deposition.

The men ended up in the front yard. Dobbins tried to knock the gun out of Miller's hand. Miller swung back, smashing Dobbins' jaw.

Dobbins took off toward woods across the street, running in a zigzag, like he'd learned in the military.

A single shot rang out. It missed him.

Then he heard a car speeding away.

• • •

Miller, 23, turned himself in the next morning and was arrested on charges of attempted murder, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, grand theft and armed burglary.

A judge set bail at $66,000. His attorney, Marc Salton, who is now a county judge, got that reduced to $26,000, and four days after his arrest, Miller posted bond.

Salton took depositions and prepared for a trial, which was set for June 1983, then July, then September.

The morning of Sept. 12, the attorneys and judge gathered in a courtroom in New Port Richey for the trial. Miller was nowhere to be found.

A bailiff sounded the halls three times, with no response. A warrant went out for Miller's arrest.

• • •

In Pasco, prosecutors were getting ready for Miller's return from Missouri. A state attorney's investigator had tracked down Dobbins in South Carolina and a witness in Port Richey. Both were willing to testify.

The afternoon of June 30, Bates County deputies and Missouri state troopers descended on Miller's house. A warrant team went inside.

Standing at the end of a hallway, Miller opened fire, according to Missouri authorities. One trooper, who was wearing a bulletproof vest, was struck in the chest but not hurt badly, they said.

The officers fired back as Miller ducked into a back room. They set up a perimeter outside, brought in more SWAT teams and tried to negotiate with the fugitive.

For five hours, they were met with only silence.

About 8:30 that night, authorities said, they fed a pole camera through a window and saw a man slumped over on the floor.

A day later, a medical examiner confirmed that the dead man was Miller, who had lived 26 years under the radar, out of the sight of justice.

His cause of death was a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Times researcher Mary Mellstrom contributed to this report. Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

26 year later, Pasco County fugitive faces his past 07/05/09 [Last modified: Sunday, July 5, 2009 8:15pm]
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