SEFFNER — Ervin Washington called his mother from Walmart at 10:30 p.m. Sunday.
His wife had stabbed him, he told her, and slashed all four tires on his truck. His mother picked him up, took him to her house and mended the wound. At 4 a.m. the next day, she drove him to work on his newspaper delivery route.
That's when they saw the wife again, trailing close behind.
Those events, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, led up to the slaying of a popular youth football coach with the Brandon Lions, once a Blake High School football standout in his own right, leaving a stunned community in mourning.
On the paper route Monday morning, the pair saw Emon Kellar following them, deputies said. Washington's mother dropped him off at the Seffner home deputies said he shared with Kellar and five children ages 5 to 20, two of them in common.
Kellar, 34, pulled up as her husband was getting out of his mother's car, according to the Sheriff's Office, and yelled threats at him.
At 5:30 a.m., authorities got a 911 call about a man who had been shot in the pair's Seffner driveway. Washington, 33, was dead.
A neighbor talked to deputies, saying she was fetching her newspaper when she heard yelling, then saw Kellar raise her hand toward Washington. The neighbor heard a loud pop.
Kellar ran inside and told her children their father had killed himself, deputies said. The witness said she saw Kellar trying to put the gun in Washington's left hand.
Kellar has been charged with first-degree murder.
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What could lead someone to gun down a much-loved coach?
Washington's friends from the ball park described his wife as verbally abusive and jealous. She showed up at the team's park three or four times in the recent past, said Lions president Clyde Wint, starting fights with her husband. After the last incident, Wint said, he pulled Washington aside to talk about it, to say they couldn't fight in front of the kids.
Washington apologized, hoping no one would hold it against him. He loved coaching his 9- to 11-year-old players, squeezing it between part-time jobs to pay the bills, often getting little sleep. He was normally a calm presence on the field, friends said.
"I know it's not you," Wint told him.
In 2001, Kellar pleaded guilty to charges of felony theft, forging and check fraud, according to Florida criminal records, and was sentenced to probation. Washington's friends were cautious about her, they said, but did not predict a deadly turn.
"Were those tendencies probably there?" Wint said. "I would say yes. As far as following through with it to that extreme? No. Never in my wildest dreams. I always said, 'If it gets that bad, my friend, you can always give me a call and we'll do anything we can do the help you out.' He always said, 'I'll take care of it.' "
Washington's ties to football date back to his father, who also played at Blake but died when Washington was young. Washington told a reporter about it his senior year, saying the few memories he had of his father involved football.
"It just makes me feel connected to him to know that I'm doing what he did back then," Washington said in 1999.
Washington was a champion track star by 12 and a running back by high school. He rushed 21 times for 175 yards and four touchdowns in a 1997 game. Washington, considered a team leader, had a setback when he learned he didn't meet the county's academic requirements to play, forcing a forfeit of the game. But he carried his knowledge through to junior coaching.
He worked a variety of jobs, friends said — at a Circle K, changing tires at an auto shop, helping Wint with kitchen and bath remodeling for extra money. Washington was also a contractor delivering Tampa Bay Times newspapers.
Kellar also had a delivery route with the Times but had not worked as a contractor for more than a year.
About eight years ago, Washington joined the Brandon Lions, where he was known as "Coach Ervin." He was goofy with kids and would invent new plays on the fly. When he wanted them to play hard, he stood on the sidelines and hollered the name of the most courageous character in the Lion King.
Washington drove an older red pickup truck, friends said. Everyone joked he needed a bigger car because he was always transporting kids to the field.
"We're in a very low-income area," said Darlene Seufzer, who serves on the team board. "A lot of these kids come from broken homes. … He always made sure they got to practice, they got home, they were fed."
He helmed the team float in the July 4 parade in Thonotosassa, getting the crowd pumped.
He spent recent weekends recruiting players at Dick's Sporting Goods and the park. Last weekend, Washington and a friend brought a grill and chicken to registration.
Washington's family was a fixture at games. His mother, who everyone called "Mama," worked at the concession stand during home games. His kids were around, too.
"They took his disposition," Seufzer said. "Very laid-back kids. Very good kids. Well-behaved kids out there to have a good time. Anything you asked them to do, they just did."
Washington talked about his wife in good terms, she said.
"I don't know exactly what happened at that house in the last couple of days," Seufzer said. "But my heart tells me that he did not cause it at all. … He seemed like a very loving partner. I know he was a loving partner."
The team's secretary sent an email to parents Monday so they could tell their children about Washington's death before they saw it on the news or heard secondhand.
"He was more than a coach," said team vice president Buddy Rudolph. "A lot of the kids, they don't have fathers at home. We have a lot of underprivileged kids. To a lot of these kids, he was their father figure."
At a 2011 cheerleading rally, Washington stood in a line of children and wildly waved a blue pom-pom. While a little boy tried to get to the top of the cheer pyramid and slipped, Washington ran to the front to distract everyone and started dancing.
Times researcher John Martin and staff writers Laura C. Morel and Caitlin Johnston contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3433. Stephanie Hayes can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3394.