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Ice cream vendor's own trail clearer than that of his attackers

TAMPA — The tip came quickly, leading deputies to arrest an ice cream vendor in a Thanksgiving Day attack that left two dead and four wounded.

Michael Keetley, deputies said, was a victim turned killer, out to avenge his own shooting in January, which the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office hasn't yet solved.

Why was one case cracked in a week while the other went stale?

Sheriff David Gee points to a phenomenon that investigators call "the first 48."

Multiple factors go into solving a case, Gee said, but the first 48 hours after a crime are the most important. It's a fact so well known that it's the name of a television show.

"A lot of that is really true," Gee said.

Within 24 hours after the Thanksgiving shooting, deputies had a solid tip that led them to Keetley.

After Keetley was wounded Jan. 23, none of the tips panned out.

"The difficulty was that we had nothing really to go on," Gee said. "We had masked suspects and a vague description."

It wasn't for lack of effort, he said. The attack on Keetley, 49, was serious, so the Sheriff's Office put a lot of resources into its early investigation.

Detectives followed tips as they trickled in, and undercover officers worked their sources in southern Hillsborough County. But nothing was solid enough to make an arrest.

The opposite was true in the latest case.

On Nov. 27, two days after the shootings, undercover detectives staked out Keetley's father's house. It wasn't long before a minivan matching the description of the one at the scene backed out of the long dirt driveway, said sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon.

Detectives followed the van. A couple of traffic violations later, they pulled it over. Keetley was inside, McKinnon said.

A search of his van revealed a gun, and though it wasn't the one used in the shooting, it gave deputies reason to arrest Keetley and search his father's house, McKinnon said.

Keetley wasn't allowed to own guns because of a restraining order filed by former neighbors.

Deputies didn't have enough evidence to charge Keetley with murder, McKinnon said, so Keetley was simply charged with violating an injunction. He bonded out the same day.

And detectives continued to follow him.

On Monday, deputies got a search warrant and scoured the Wimauma house. That's when they found a car in the back yard riddled with bullets, McKinnon said.

Deputies collected a couple of bullets from the car and sent them to state analysts to be compared with a bullet found under a victim at the scene.

They matched, a Sheriff's Office report states.

About the same time, one of the victims came out of an induced coma and picked Keetley out of a photo pack.

He said he was "2,000 percent" sure.

Within several hours, a detective had typed a report detailing why the Sheriff's Office believes Keetley is the killer.

A judge signed the warrant. By midnight, deputies were back at the Keetley house.

Keetley's attackers might still be caught, Gee said. Deputies haven't stopped following tips.

"We even had some leads tricking in over the last several weeks," he said.

The first 48 hours have long past. But even cold cases get solved.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or jvandervelde@sptimes.com.

Ice cream vendor's own trail clearer than that of his attackers 12/03/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 3, 2010 10:55pm]
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