TAMPA — As an Ybor City nightclub was closing Sunday morning, a suspect in the club shot and killed a man, shot and wounded another and then slipped away, police said.
The dead man, Leslie Jerome Jones Jr., 20, is the father of four, a relative said. He and the injured man, Ahmaud Black, 19, were friends who often hung out together at the Jackson Heights Apartments in East Tampa.
The shooting is another in a string of violent episodes that has beset Club Empire, 1902 E Seventh Ave., this decade.
It began, Tampa police said, as the club was letting out for the night at 2:46 a.m.
A bullet struck Jones, who was in the VIP room, in the head, and he died instantly, police said. Jones' friends dragged him outside the club's back door, where authorities found him.
Black was shot in the chest. His wounds were serious, but not considered life-threatening, police said.
Officers said Black was not cooperating with the investigation, and police did not release a description of a suspect Sunday.
Both victims were on probation when shot, records show.
Monte Irvin, who said he is Black's cousin and Jones' friend, said the two men were friends. Jones did not make trouble in the neighborhood, he said, and Black had recently been released from prison and was making money at odd jobs like cutting grass.
Taylor Byrd, another friend of Jones, said he was in Club Empire on Saturday night. He said there was no special occasion for the get-together — just a group of friends hanging out.
Byrd said he had walked away from the group when he heard the shots. He took off running, but returned when he learned his friend was struck by a bullet.
Byrd said he saw Jones' lifeless body in the parking lot.
A man listed on social network websites as Club Empire's VIP manager declined to comment when reached by phone Sunday. Efforts to reach the club's owners were unsuccessful.
The shooting inside the club is the latest in a series of problems involving Club Empire. At least three other fatal attacks and numerous incidents have occurred at or near the club over the past nine years.
In 2002, two bouncers were shot outside the club; one died. In 2005, a man was shot and wounded outside the club. In 2006, another patron was fatally stabbed in a parking lot nearby.
In 2007, a man was shot and killed after being thrown out of the club for fighting with the man who was later accused in the shooting. In 2009, a man was shot multiple times in a nearby parking lot shortly after closing time. He survived.
A 15-year-old, two-level venue, Club Empire is an 18-and-up establishment. Its website publicizes the Saturday special: free cover and free drinks until 11 p.m.
Several years ago, the club switched from featuring techno music to hip-hop, which is when critics say the issues began.
Joanne Downs, a manager at the Blue Ship Cafe next door, said patrons on the way to and from her restaurant sometimes cross the street to avoid interacting with the crowd.
"It's really kind of scary that that had to happen, but I'm not surprised," she said.
David Sunday, who owns Sunday's Fine Dining across the street, didn't hear about the shooting until late in the afternoon. But the news angered him.
"I think they should shut them down," he said.
Violence like the kind seen in and around Club Empire has given Ybor City a bad name and scares off tourists, Sunday said.
"We actually close early to avoid the rush of everybody coming out of that place," he said.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Tia Mitchell can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3405.