Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Man accused of beating to death aspiring 'ultimate fighter' at Zephyrhills party

ZEPHYRHILLS — At a small house party early Sunday, a man with anger issues kept clashing with an aspiring "ultimate fighter."

To defuse the tension, friends offered to set up a supervised fight. Like in the mixed martial arts fighting enjoyed by 19-year-old Samuel Smith of Wesley Chapel, there would be rules about where to hit and when to stop.

That orchestrated fight never happened, according to witness Jason Wansor, 27. Instead, it was a spontaneous fight in a carport around 1 a.m. that led to 27-year-old Richard Starks Jr. knocking out Smith, his blows laying the larger man onto a chair.

Bleeding near the eyes and the bridge of his nose, Smith stopped breathing after a few minutes, Wansor said. Partygoers called an ambulance to the house party at 4422 Transue Drive and tried to resuscitate him.

Smith died at a hospital, according to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. Hours later, Starks was arrested at a Zephyrhills house where he lives with his children, wife and parents. He faces second-degree murder charges and was taken to jail.

"They did want to fight each other," Wansor said. "But to have somebody die over it is the last thing you'd ever expect."

The Sheriff's Office did not release a motive for the fight. According to Wansor, the fatal fisticuffs appeared to emerge from a few minor insults. Starks, whom his friends call "Red" after the color of his hair, didn't like Smith calling him a "ginger." He didn't like Smith taunting him for having "weak knees."

Wansor said the confrontation also may have gained momentum from the vodka and Sailor Jerry rum consumed at the gathering of about 10 people.

In 12 years of friendship, Wansor said he has never seen Starks get into a fight.

"I think he was just being a little protective," he said, "and just trying to make sure he wasn't going to get whooped."

Family members describe Starks as a passive father of two, a worker in a plastic factory in Plant City with an affinity for fixing cars. He's the middle "Ricky" between his father, Rick, and his own son, little Ricky.

But Starks also gets frustrated easily, his wife said, so he had learned to take medication and walk away when agitation builds.

"He's not a fighter," Starks' 48-year-old father, Rick, said. "He's never been a fighter."

State records show Starks Jr. was arrested in 2002 on a battery charge, and again in 2004 for violating a domestic violence injunction.

Smith's family could not be reached for comment Sunday.

According to Wansor, the witness to the fight and a recent acquaintance of Smith's, the 19-year-old was a good fighter but not aggressive, the type who liked to spar in the back yard but didn't seem to instigate fights.

Smith's Facebook page lists full-contact fighting as a sport he plays and mixed martial arts as one of his interests. It also says he attended Wiregrass Ranch High School in the class of 2010.

Experts say it's unusual for a fistfight to turn deadly. Without special training, fighters often don't strike with enough force to cause significant damage to a vital organ, according to Dr. David Ciesla, medical director of the trauma center at Tampa General Hospital.

"Sometimes there's a lucky shot," he said. But punches to the head tend to cause fractures, bruises or swelling, Ciesla said, more often than serious cerebral hemorrhages or severe concussions.

"It's really rare to hit hard enough to cause a brain injury that bad," he said.

While drinking alcohol may fuel fights, it doesn't necessarily change the threshold of injury that a body can withstand, according to Ciesla.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Stephanie Wang can be reached at swang@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

Man accused of beating to death aspiring 'ultimate fighter' at Zephyrhills party 07/24/11 [Last modified: Monday, July 25, 2011 4:22pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Police: Uber driver's gun discharges during fight at Adventure Island in Tampa

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — An Uber driver's gun went off Sunday at Adventure Island during a fight between the driver and two passengers.

  2. Baker cautious on Pride politics

    Elections

    Rick and Joyce Baker strode down Central Avenue Sunday amid rainbow flags, corporate booths, and blaring music of the St. Pete Pride Festival.

    St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Rick Baker chats Sunday with people at the St. Pete Pride Festival. As mayor, Baker did not sign a Pride parade proclamation, but now he says he would.
  3. Rays' bullpen stars lit up in loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Saturday it was the soft underbelly of the bullpen that let one get away from the Rays, incurring the wrath of the team's faithful followers, who wondered why the high-leverage guys weren't pitching.

    Rays closer Alex Colome, coming in with the score tied in the ninth, allows three runs in his second straight poor outing.
  4. Lightning among early suitors for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said he planned to explore free agency for potential needs, which include bolstering his blue line and adding a wing or two.

    Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who can be a free agent Saturday, counts the Lightning among his early suitors.
  5. Senate leaders try to appease members as support for health bill slips

    National

    WASHINGTON — Senate Republican leaders scrambled Sunday to rally support for their health care bill, even as opposition continued to build outside Congress and two Republican senators questioned whether the bill would be approved this week.

    Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill on Thursday, is one of the five Republican senators who announced they cannot support the health care bill as drafted.