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Argument over skateboarders leaves father dead in Valrico

VALRICO — David James was enjoying an afternoon game of basketball Sunday with his 8-year-old daughter when he was shot and killed in front of her by a neighbor trying to chase away skateboarders, said friends and authorities.

Neighbors say James, 41, was defending the skateboarders, telling a man who lives across the street there was no sign to prohibit them from skateboarding on the courts.

"I see a sign," the assailant replied as he pulled a gun, neighbors said.

The suspect, who was not identified by authorities, then waited next to the body for Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office deputies to arrive, neighbors said.

The man was questioned by detectives and the State Attorney's Office officials and released Sunday night, said sheriff's spokesman Deputy Larry McKinnon.

"Additional details of the investigation will not be publicly released at this time," he said.

In some killings, suspects have invoked a "stand your ground" defense, which relies on a state law that allows people to meet force with force when they feel threatened.

"Whether this case meets those guidelines remains to be seen," McKinnon said.

A key witness in the case is likely to be 8-year-old Danielle, who used her father's cell phone to call her mother after the shooting, said the victim's 17-year-old stepson, Garrett.

"At first she wasn't too bad," Garrett said. But she broke down after being questioned by investigators.

"She's taking it worse than anybody," the younger James said.

Deputies responded Sunday about 4 p.m. to a call about a shooting at 3207 Partridge Point Trail, across the street from the basketball court.

At dusk, neighbors gathered on the usually quiet streets outside the crime tape.

"It's a classic example of someone losing their temper over something silly," said Rhonda Norris, 40, who described her Twin Lakes neighborhood as family-friendly.

A recent concert in the park drew hundreds for free hot dogs and music by the Single Malt Brothers. Christmas brings performances by the high school band.

The suspect, though, had a reputation for nagging neighbors about loose dogs, and yelling and swearing at the skateboarders who like to set up ramps and rails on the community basketball court to practice their moves.

"I'm not surprised it fell out the way it did," Garrett James said.

His stepfather, who retired two years ago after serving 20 years in the Air Force, was the type of man who would stand up for people he thought were being treated unfairly, he said.

"He was a really good man," he said. "If he hadn't been there, you'd probably have two teenage kids dead instead of my dad."

And as one of the neighborhood's many skateboarders, he said he had his own run-ins with the suspect. So did his friend, Bill Myers, 16.

"He's given me a lot of trouble throughout the years," Myers said. "He likes to say he paid for that court himself."

The court, along with tennis courts and an athletic field, are maintained with dues from members of the homeowners association.

Myers and James say they have tried to petition the Twin Lakes homeowners association to build a skateboard park, collecting signatures from sympathetic parents.

Although there is a no trespassing sign on the basketball court, they believe that applies only to people who don't live in the neighborhood, which has a security booth at its entrance where a guard takes the names of visitors every day after 6 p.m.

"Everybody's lives have been changed by a conflict and an irrational decision," said Derek Matthews, who lives across the street from the crime scene. "It's a terrible, sad situation."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Argument over skateboarders leaves father dead in Valrico 09/26/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 28, 2010 5:46pm]
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