BAYONET POINT — The first time the deputy knocked, Brian Fickes said his roommate was out fishing. The deputy had been sent to 12811 College Hill Drive in Country Club Estates to check on Kim Cox, a 69-year-old retiree whose children hadn't heard from him for days. Cox always answered his phone for his children. They worried.
The deputy came back. It was about 9:40 p.m. Tuesday. This time, Fickes, 45, allowed the deputy to come inside and search.
Neighbor Ashley Paquette, 18, had been talking with Fickes outside when the deputy arrived. She went inside with them. According to her father, Richard Paquette, this is what happened next:
The deputy smelled something foul inside the home. The stench led him to the garage.
"You guys don't have a dead body in here, do you?" the deputy said. Ashley Paquette motioned to stacks of seeping garbage in the garage. Cox lived on such a meager income he didn't have the money for garbage pickup, so the trash piled up.
Ashley told the deputy that could be the source of the smell.
Then the deputy kicked at a blue tarp, which covered something. He reached down and lifted a corner.
He saw an arm.
It was Cox. He had been dead for what appears to be days, authorities said. The last time Cox spoke with his 23-year-old son, Travis Cox, was Friday.
"Get down on the ground," the deputy shouted to Fickes, his gun drawn, Ashley Paquette later told her father. She was too shaken up to speak to the Times on Wednesday.
The Pasco County Sheriff's Office has not said how Cox died, only that detectives believe foul play was involved. The official cause of his demise is in the hands of the medical examiner's office.
Fickes was arrested and charged with grand theft of Cox's car, which neighbors had seen him driving recently, and with resisting arrest without violence. He remained Wednesday evening at the Land O'Lakes jail in lieu of $2,150 bail.
He was not charged with anything related to Cox's death.
"We continue to investigate whether or not Brian Fickes had any involvement in the death of Mr. Cox," sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin said.
Richard Paquette, 42, said Fickes moved in with Cox several weeks ago. He said Fickes talked Cox into letting him stay for one night — and then he never left.
Fickes had convictions in Florida in the 1980s for burglary and stolen property. Then he went to prison in Michigan in 1995 for assault with a weapon and pleaded guilty in 1997 to charges of possession of a firearm and possession of a controlled substance, court records state. A former wife also filed a personal protection order there against Fickes in 2000, records show.
He didn't reappear in Florida criminal records until his arrest Wednesday, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Paquette said Cox spoke with him last week about his worries.
" 'Rich, I don't know what the hell to do,' " Paquette said Cox told him. " 'I've dropped hints. The guy isn't getting it. He won't leave.' "
Paquette said Fickes was unemployed and so broke that he would hang out at businesses, sifting through their outdoor ashtrays to find cigarette butts to smoke. But, he said, in the few days before Cox's body was found, Fickes lived the high life: driving around in Cox's 1997 Dodge Ram van, talking on Cox's cell phone, sitting on Cox's chair outside, a metal one by the garage door, gobbling fast food from Burger King and McDonald's. That was where Cox usually sat every day, with his dog, Milo, by his side.
At first, Fickes told concerned neighbors that Cox was in bed sick. Then he said Cox was fishing.
"I never would have thought he was in there dead," Paquette said.
Another neighbor, Don Newell, 88, said Cox appeared to be a kind, soft-spoken man.
"I think he was surrounded by people who were not very nice," Newell said.
Newell called them "parasites." He said Fickes talked him into letting him borrow his phone a few times.
"He'd tell stories and you would start believing him," Newell said. "People like that are salesmen."
Cox's ex-wife, Eileen Cox, said the two had been married for 26 years before their divorce last year. She said her ex-husband didn't express any fear of Fickes to her or their children, who are adults. They have three boys and a girl. He coached them in Little League. Eileen Cox said her ex-husband worked construction all his life. She said he was a good man with a kind heart. When he saw people down on their luck on the side of the road, he would go to a store, get the person a meal and circle back to give it away.
"He never thought anybody would ever hurt him," she said.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.