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Aftermath of deadly shooting in Valrico leaves community bewildered

VALRICO

Trevor Dooley walked out of his suburban house Sunday afternoon, past his trimmed lawn and nice landscaping, to confront a boy riding a skateboard on the basketball court across the street. That's against the rules in this neighborhood, and Dooley, 69, was carrying a gun.

David James, 41, with 20 years in the Air Force, was playing basketball with his 8-year-old daughter. They played every Sunday.

James stood up for the skateboarder, neighbors said. The men argued and got into a "physical confrontation," the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said. Then, in front of his daughter, James was shot dead.

What authorities don't know is who pulled the trigger, or whether it was justified.

The Sheriff's Office has not named Dooley as a suspect or charged him with a crime. When police arrived around 4 p.m., he was waiting with the dead man. He invoked his right to remain silent and called his lawyer.

"We haven't named him yet as a suspect. I'm not going to say he's not," said sheriff's Col. Albert Frost. "We have various witnesses and various conflicting statements at this point to start with. Obviously, that doesn't help us. We're trying to sort out the facts and trying to determine what really happened."

So Dooley went back to work Monday morning, driving a school bus loaded with kids.

Hillsborough schools spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said the Sheriff's Office did not notify the school district of Dooley's involvement in the shooting.

"We didn't know of any kind of allegations until we got a call from someone," Cobbe said. "Then I talked to the transportation manager, but by then he was done with his route for the day."

Would they have acted differently had they known about Dooley's involvement?

"Possibly," she said. "It didn't become evident to us until we started getting all of these calls. … We err on the side of caution when student safety or employee safety is at risk."

Dooley, a New York City transplant, drives a route for Barrington Middle School and Newsome High School, both in Lithia. He also picks up elementary children who missed the bus.

Cobbe said he will be reassigned "for his safety and the students'."

School Board member Candy Olson struggled to put her surprise into words.

"He's a school bus driver who drove — oh, my gosh," she said.

Olson said the Sheriff's Office should have immediately contacted the district if it knew a bus driver had been involved in such an incident. "They certainly owe us the information that they have," she said.

"For his safety and the safety of his students," said board member April Griffin. "People are angry about this. There are definitely some questions that need to be answered."

Dooley, who listed his previous employer as Ted's Transport Services in the Bronx when he applied here to drive buses, didn't answer his door Monday afternoon.

Neighbors said Dooley is a fine man with good intentions. They couldn't understand how a man wound up dead.

"It's just really sad and it's stupid," said Sam Romano, 50, a neighbor. "None of it made any sense to any of us."

Mark Cox, a State Attorney's Office spokesman, said he couldn't yet explain why no charges have been filed.

"It's still very much a pending investigation," he said. "We're working on it diligently."

Neighbors said James was defending skateboarders, who they said have had multiple run-ins with Dooley.

"We've gone off on each other before," said James' stepson, 17-year-old Garrett James.

James' wife, Kanina James, can't understand why Dooley is free.

"It's over and it's done and it can't be undone," she said on the phone to a friend Monday morning. "Yeah, they caught him and they let him go. I don't know why."

She smoked Marlboro Golds on her back porch in the Twin Lakes neighborhood, on a white wicker bench, blotting her eyes with a paper towel and trying to make sense of how a father-daughter basketball game turned deadly.

Kanina James said her husband was a good man. "He would help anybody out. I think that's what happened yesterday. I think he was just trying to help someone out."

The two met when Kanina worked as a cocktail waitress in Las Vegas. She was taken by his big muscles and his eyes. "I remember thinking, 'He's just so beautiful.' His eyes were so pretty." They married a few years later, in 1998.

James loved his daughter Danielle. The two played basketball every Sunday and rode around the neighborhood on a Kawasaki Vulcan motorcycle with a special seat for Danielle.

"He and Danielle were so close," Kanina said. "He was her best friend."

Kanina said she learned her husband had been shot when a woman called from his cell phone. She hurried to the park and noticed that paramedics were not working on him. She tried to run to him but deputies held her back.

At the scene, Danielle asked her mother why no one was helping her dad. "I just said, 'He already went up to heaven.' "

Detectives interviewed the girl Monday. The Sheriff's Office said she was traumatized, which complicates the investigation.

"The minute we can reach a point we have a finding and something we can move on, we will," said Frost, the sheriff's colonel.

Times staff writer Tom Marshall and researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@sptimes.com or (813) 310-6066.

Aftermath of deadly shooting in Valrico leaves community bewildered 09/27/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 28, 2010 4:47pm]
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