Sunday, April 22, 2018
Public safety

Police need help of witnesses to solve 6-year-old homicide

CLEARWATER — Elaine Dash Wade still remembers the phone call.

It was 1 a.m. Her sister called and said their brother, Leon Dash Jr., had been hurt in a fight. Wade rushed to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.

"There's nothing we can do," a nurse told her.

The following day, Dash, 48, was taken off life support.

Tuesday marked the six-year anniversary of the day Dash was found unconscious in a Clearwater parking lot early on the morning of July 30, 2007. His death is among 26 unsolved homicides in the city.

"He was not just another number," said his sister Ladwayna Dash Gilghrest. "He was my father's only son. My only brother."

During a news conference Tuesday, Clearwater homicide detective Michael Hasty said police are seeking witnesses in Dash's death.

Detectives have identified a person of interest. They've analyzed evidence found at the scene. A Crime Stoppers reward of up to $1,000 has been established. Still, no witnesses have come forward.

"It's a challenge that we face sometimes," Hasty said. "It's somewhat of a 'no snitch' mentality that prohibits investigations that may otherwise be closed much sooner."

Dash was living with Wade in Palm Harbor and had recently landed a job as a security guard for the Atrium Martini Bar at 626 Park St. in downtown Clearwater.

The club was hosting an event for teenagers. As patrons spilled out into the parking lot, a fight erupted. Dash intervened, sustaining fatal head injuries. People in the parking lot that night were uncooperative with police, Hasty said. Police are urging them to cooperate now.

"In order for the pace to continue to move forward, it's critical at this point that witnesses from that parking lot come forward," Hasty said.

Three weeks before his death, Dash had moved back to Pinellas after spending six months in Indiana working in construction. He had a daughter and a son. On the day of his wake, his first granddaughter was born.

"He was so excited and looking forward to her being born," Wade said. "She looks just like him, and he never got to experience her."

His father, Leon Dash Sr., sat in silence next to his daughters during the news conference. He wore a white shirt emblazoned with his son's photo and the words, "Too Well Loved to Ever Be Forgotten."

The Dash family has dealt with tragedy before. On June 14, 1974, the siblings' mother, Margaret, was picking up medicine for a sick relative and never returned home.

When Wade entered the Police Department's lobby on Tuesday, she looked up and saw a banner displaying photos of victims in all of the unsolved missing persons and homicide cases in Clearwater.

Both her mother and brother were pictured there.

Every year for Leon Dash's May 25 birthday, the family visits the cemetery and places new flowers on his grave.

An arrest in connection to his death, they said, would bring them some closure.

"It's not going to bring him back," Gilghrest said. "But whoever did this needs to be brought to justice."

Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] or (727)445-4157.

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