Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Public safety

Holiday man claims he killed father in self-defense

LAND O'LAKES — Elizabeth Vercruysse remembers her father, Rene Dominique Vercruysse, as a big, jovial man with a thick Cajun accent. He called her every morning. His best friend was her 9-year-old daughter. He could be tough sometimes, she said, but deep down, "He was a mush ball."

Her brother, Baron Von Duke Vercruysse, 23, described a different man.

From a holding area in the Land O'Lakes jail Wednesday afternoon, where he is charged with murdering his father, Baron Von Duke Vercruysse alleged years of abuse. He said he lived in fear of doing anything wrong. He said he suffered black eyes, bloody noses, fat lips.

"I didn't mean to kill him," Vercruysse told the Times. "I just wanted him to stop beating me."

On New Year's Eve, he said, he fought back. His account of that night is this:

Vercruysse had been at a friend's house. He came home to the house he shared with his father at 5617 Mosaic Drive in Holiday. The arguing started soon after, over Vercruysse's money, his lack of a job and his unkempt room. They argued in the bedroom. He said his father grabbed a .38-caliber pistol from the nightstand and pointed it at him.

Vercruysse shoved his 52-year-old father and turned away. Rene brought the butt of the gun down on his son's head. Vercruysse said the blow brought him to the ground. There, under the bed, he saw a knife with about a 3-inch blade.

He grabbed it, stood up and faced his father.

He said he closed his eyes. And stabbed.

All he could hear in the dark, his hand thrusting outward, was his father's scream. A neighbor would later tell reporters it rang in the night distinguishable from New Year festivities. "It was sharp," Randal Tilton said. "It scared me."

Vercruysse said he opened his eyes to see his father slumped on the toilet seat. They were in a bathroom connected to the bedroom. Blood drenched his father. It covered him, too. His shirt, pants and shoes and all over the room.

He called his father's name. No answer.

"I didn't know what to do," Vercruysse said.

He dragged his father's body next to the bed. He said he was scared. He grabbed gasoline from the garage and doused his father with it. He lit it and left.

A short distance away, he took off his blood-soaked clothes and doused and lit them, too.

A neighbor called 911. Deputies found Vercruysse the next morning and arrested him on charges of first-degree murder and arson.

A Pasco Sheriff's Office report said the father died of "blunt force trauma to his head" after his son forced him to the ground during a fight. The parts of the report that were not redacted did not describe a stabbing.

Vercruysse said he misses his father. He loved his dad and knew it was reciprocated.

"He was a good man," he said. "He was nice to them when he wanted to be. He was mean to them when he was drunk."

Court records show Rene Vercruysse had a few dustups over the years. He pleaded no contest to battery in 1996, resisting arrest without violence in 2007 and trespassing in 2008.

Paula Muhlhan, a managing member of Corinthian Catamarans, where Rene Vercruysse worked, has been friends with the family since 1995. She says she saw him punch or slap his son on occasion, but as a way to control him. She said Baron Vercruysse had begun hanging out with a bad crowd, that he was bipolar and using drugs.

"(Rene) was trying to do everything that he could to keep the kids safe and out of the morgue," she said, "because the drugs were taking over."

The Times asked Vercruysse if he was bipolar. "I don't know," he replied. The Times asked if his siblings were beaten. "I don't know," he said. He declined to discuss the times he said he was beaten.

His sister, Elizabeth Vercruysse, 30, did not describe any abuse, though, and she declined to talk about her brother. She said only that her dad could be "tough when he was mad."

She says she remembers the times when her father was a "mush ball." For dinner, he would make split pea soup or rice and beans with the radio on.

In his Cajun voice, he would croon "Ooh, cher. Got some good food cookin' tonight."

When Into the Mystic by Van Morrison came on, he would call her into the kitchen to dance. It was their song.

Alex Orlando can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.

Deputies identify 11-month-old who drowned, no other details released

Deputies identify 11-month-old who drowned, no other details released

BRANDON — The 11-month-old girl who drowned in an apartment complex pond on Monday was identified as Deleah Morgan by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Tuesday.Deputies released no other details about the incident or the ongoing investigation....
Updated: 1 hour ago

Man, 60, arrested in fatal shooting of his neighbor in Holiday

HOLIDAY — A 60-year-old man fatally shot his neighbor on Tuesday while the younger man stood outside his own home, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies said Qiu Feng Kek shot Edward Tudor, 37, outside 3519 Richboro Drive. He died a...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Map: Where to park for Gasparilla and the NHL All-Star Weekend in Tampa

Map: Where to park for Gasparilla and the NHL All-Star Weekend in Tampa

The Gasparilla Parade of Pirates and NHL All-Star Weekend overlap Saturday in downtown Tampa. Here are highlights of what to know before you go.GETTING THEREThe parade route runs generally along Bayshore Boulevard north to Ashley Street (In blue on t...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Troopers: U.S. 19 at Countryside Blvd. now open except for inside lane

Troopers: U.S. 19 at Countryside Blvd. now open except for inside lane

CLEARWATER — Officials have reopened U.S. 19 at Countryside Blvd. except for the inside lane.  The entire highway was closed for a brief period Tuesday while workers cleaned up a chemical spill after a Terminix truck flipped over. According t...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Man sentenced for smuggling king cobras in potato chip cans

Man sentenced for smuggling king cobras in potato chip cans

LOS ANGELES — A Southern California man has been sentenced to five months in federal prison for smuggling three highly venomous king cobras hidden in potato chip canisters through the mail.In a plea agreement, Rodrigo Franco admitted smuggling anothe...
Updated: 7 hours ago
He drove into Tampa Bay and walked away uninjured, troopers say

He drove into Tampa Bay and walked away uninjured, troopers say

A Miami resident lost control of his truck and tumbled into Tampa Bay Tuesday morning — and walked away unscathed.According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Osvaldo Jares, 25, fell asleep at the wheel of his 2002 Ford F150 before losing control and dri...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Parents of 12-year-old Florida girl say she was bullied into suicide

Parents of 12-year-old Florida girl say she was bullied into suicide

Gabriella "Gabbie" Green went to her mother, Tanya Green, for advice on some "girl drama" and harsh text and social media messages she was receiving from classmates at Surfside Middle School in Panama City Beach.Less than an hour after that conversat...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Truck carrying frozen chickens catches fire on I-75 in Brandon

Southbound lanes on Interstate 75 were closed in Brandon early Tuesday morning after a semi-trailer carrying frozen chickens caught fire.According to the Florida Highway Patrol, 52-year-old Brian Keith Jester, of Venice, was driving southbound near S...
Published: 01/23/18

Alaska hit by 7.9 earthquake; tsunami warning canceled

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck off Alaska’s Kodiak Island early Tuesday, prompting a tsunami warning for a large swath of the state’s coast.Officials at the National Tsunami Center canceled the warning after a few tense hours a...
Published: 01/23/18

Male bicyclist struck, killed by vehicle in Pinellas Park

PINELLAS PARK — A male bicyclist was struck and killed by a vehicle on U.S. 19 on Monday night, according to Pinellas Park police.The incident took place at about 8:30 p.m. along the 8000 block of U.S. 19 N, near the Walmart Supercenter.The driver wa...
Published: 01/22/18