Sunday, October 21, 2018
Public safety

Detectives search for leads in slaying of musician

PINELLAS PARK — Caroline Morton-Hicks loved music in all its forms. She loved listening to it, she loved dancing to it and she loved playing it on her trombone, rehearsing and performing with groups across Pinellas County.

It was after one of those rehearsals Monday night that Pinellas Park police said an assailant chased the 59-year-old woman down and fatally shot her between the performing arts center and City Hall.

She was leaving a rehearsal of the Pinellas Park Civic Orchestra at about 9:55 p.m., police said, when she became involved in an altercation in the parking lot.

She tried to run away. The shooter ran after her and shot her in the 5100 block of 78th Avenue, police said. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Detectives are searching for the shooter but said they have little to work with. They’re combing through Hicks’ background in search of a motive, but have not ruled out that she was randomly targeted.

"We don’t have a suspect ID," Sgt. Mike Lynch said, adding that investigators don’t know the sex or race of the shooter or even if there were multiple assailants.

The news shocked friends who remembered Morton-Hicks as charming and fun. By day, the St. Petersburg resident managed her rental properties. At night, she played her trombone and, almost every week, swing danced to a jazz ensemble called the TomKats at the Blue Parrot on St. Pete Beach.

"She would dance with whoever would dance with her, which was everyone," said friend Lee Lafleur, 58. "She always lit up a room."

Morton-Hicks was originally from England and still has family there, including at least two children, said fellow trombonist Stewart Olson, 70.

She learned how to play as an adult and always strived to get better, Olsen said. She never missed a chance to play, especially with jazz bands.

"She was very keen to share live music with whoever wanted to listen," said Stephen P. Brown, conductor of the Dunedin Concert Band, which she used to perform with.

Morton-Hicks was also passionate about the outdoors, participating in excursions with a group called the Slackers, which stands for Simply Laidback Adventurers, Campers and Kayakers.

That’s where she met Charlie Holley, 66. He said they dated for about 18 months after her husband died. They separated during the summer of 2016.

He described her as "popular" and "well-liked." As a British expatriate, she had very dry sense of humor.

"We’d be talking and she would say something and all of a sudden you’d realize it was funny," Holley said. "It was easy to miss. You’d have to pay attention."

When Morton-Hicks wasn’t kayaking or playing music, he said, she was tending to her properties. State records show Morton-Hicks owned a business, Fribri, Inc, which owns 15 properties in St. Petersburg. She was a compassionate landlord, Holley said, renting to families with modest incomes. She’d often let tenants pay their rent when they could, he said.

"She was a very, very gracious landlord, very forgiving," he said.

Her fellow musicians had already left at the time of the altercation, police said. Two witnesses who were working on a vehicle nearby told police they heard an argument, then saw Morton-Hicks being chased, and then heard gunfire.

"What we don’t have is that piece of the puzzle of when she left," Lynch said. "Was there anyone waiting for her, did she get into a vehicle, was there someone in her car?"

Times senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Kathryn Varn at [email protected] or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.

Comments
Hillsborough Sheriff: Double homicide at apartment, suspect in custody

Hillsborough Sheriff: Double homicide at apartment, suspect in custody

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a double homicide after discovering the bodies of a woman and a boy in an apartment Sunday evening.About 6:47 p.m., Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister said authorities received a 911...
Updated: 3 hours ago
TPD: Man driving wrong way on Selmon Expressway with lights off kills 68-year-old

TPD: Man driving wrong way on Selmon Expressway with lights off kills 68-year-old

TAMPA — For years, Bamnet Narongchai showed up to the Wat Buddhist temple on Sunday morning to grill chicken for the temple’s weekly market.He was expected to be there this past Sunday, like always. But by the time the market started, the grim news w...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Jacksonville shooting: 6 shot, 3 in critical condition; Picture of car released

Jacksonville shooting: 6 shot, 3 in critical condition; Picture of car released

JACKSONVILLE — Six people have been shot a few blocks from an NFL stadium in Jacksonville, and three are in critical condition, authorities reported.No suspect is yet in custody, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.About 12:35 p.m., a vehi...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Driver dead in single-car crash in Riverview, deputies say

Driver dead in single-car crash in Riverview, deputies say

RIVERVIEW — A driver in a single-car crash early Sunday morning, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.About 1:20 a.m., deputies found the driver unresponsive, after his car crashed into a chain link fence and power pole.No one else w...
Published: 10/21/18
FHP: Pedestrian, 70, hit and killed in Brandon

FHP: Pedestrian, 70, hit and killed in Brandon

BRANDON — A 70-year-old woman was hit and killed crossing State Road 60 on Saturday night, troopers reported.Mary J. Philip, of New Port Richey, was walking across the road near Mount Carmel Road about 11:11 p.m., according to the Florida Highway Pat...
Published: 10/21/18
FHP: Pedestrian, 87, hit and killed crossing State Road 52

FHP: Pedestrian, 87, hit and killed crossing State Road 52

PORT RICHEY — A driver hit and killed a pedestrian on State Road 52 near Bayonet Point, troopers reported.About 5:49 p.m., the pedestrian, 87-year-old Daniel William Troy, was walking north across the road, east of Meadow Drive.At the same time, Chri...
Published: 10/21/18

Woman, 20, killed by falling palm tree on Egmont Key

ST. PETERSBURG — A 20-year-old woman died Saturday afternoon at Egmont Key Park when a palm tree fell on her, according to Hillsborough deputies.Isabel Melendez was lying in a hammock about 4 p.m. on the island, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Offi...
Published: 10/20/18
Homicide victim found lying off Dale Mabry/ Busch is 34-year-old man, deputies say

Homicide victim found lying off Dale Mabry/ Busch is 34-year-old man, deputies say

TAMPA — A homicide victim found lying alongside Dale Mabry Highway and Busch Boulevard on Friday afternoon has been identified as Michael Andrew Montalbano, 34, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said.Investigators said only that Montalb...
Published: 10/20/18
CrossFit worker, 16, stabbed during robbery attempt outside Tarpon Springs gym

CrossFit worker, 16, stabbed during robbery attempt outside Tarpon Springs gym

TARPON SPRINGS — A Spring Hill teen has been arrested in the stabbing of another teen during a robbery attempt outside a gym where the victim worked.Dedson Hallon Suas, 17, faces a charge of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and attempte...
Published: 10/20/18
Drunk driver hits 11 vehicles on I-275, including state trooper's car. No one hurt

Drunk driver hits 11 vehicles on I-275, including state trooper's car. No one hurt

ST. PETERSBURG — A drunk driver collided with 11 vehicles along a five-mile stretch of Interstate 275 before he was arrested as he was stopped in traffic after exiting into downtown, the Florida Highway Patrol said.No one one was injured in th...
Published: 10/20/18