TAMPA — Dave Curtis was reserved and quiet, friends said. He was always upbeat, telling his kids to look on the bright side. No one ever saw him get angry.
So a few years ago, when Curtis told his family he wanted to be a police officer, his cousin couldn't imagine him doing the sometimes confrontational work of a cop.
"I couldn't believe it. He's the friendliest guy you'll ever meet. He's got no temper, no beef with anybody," Chris Clark, 36, said Tuesday. "I told him, 'Man, you never even got in a fight.'
"But he just wanted to chase down the bad guys."
Curtis, 31, was killed about 2:15 a.m. Tuesday while working the overnight shift for the Tampa Police Department. He had pulled over a red Camry without a visible tag when he learned the passenger was wanted for a bad check. The passenger, Dontae Morris, is accused of shooting Curtis and another Tampa police officer, Jeffrey Kocab.
Kocab was pronounced dead at Tampa General Hospital. Curtis, who had been a Tampa officer for more than three years, died hours later. He left a wife and four sons, ages 8 months to 9 years, and five dogs he loved to take swimming.
"He was just this big, husky guy who loved Alabama football and his family more than anything," said his father-in-law, Chris Bowers, who lived next door. "When he wasn't working, he was always taking his boys fishing and four-wheeling, exploring the woods. He wanted to build a tiki hut with them, but I guess he'll never get to do that now."
"All of his boys looked exactly like him," said neighbor Nick Ward, 13.
Curtis and his twin sister, Autumn, grew up in a rural part of Mobile, Ala. Their parents divorced when they were in elementary school, Clark said, and they lived mostly with their dad, who drove trucks. Curtis always wanted to play football, and he won a scholarship to be an offensive lineman at Mobile Christian School in his senior year in high school.
"He was a teddy bear," said Lorie Minor, who taught Curtis in 12th grade psychology. "He was friends with the most popular kids and he was friends with the least popular kids." An average student, she said. "A real gentleman. He was always the first one to open a door for you."
At Harding University in Searcy, Ark., Curtis played football for a year. He transferred to Faulkner University, then to the University of South Alabama, where he got a job in a college bar as a bouncer. The bar was next to a restaurant, where he met a waitress his age named Kelly. "He never dated much," Clark said. "She was his first love."
Though Curtis was brought up Baptist, they married at her parents' Catholic church. "He didn't want a bachelor party," said Clark. "He was never much for drinking or smoking or partying."
Curtis worked at a grocery store, a hardware store, a department store. Detailed BMWs at a car wash, waited tables, became a personal trainer at a gym. "I have learned something special at every job," he wrote in 2002, when he applied to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. "I learned to calm everyone down first, not beat everyone up. I survived three Mardi Gras with no incidents."
Howard Lindsey, 43, worked with Curtis as a Hillsborough County detention deputy. Curtis mostly worked intake, Lindsey said, taking fingerprints and booking photos. "He was always respectful to everyone, even the inmates," Lindsey said. But he didn't like being stuck in the jail, Lindsey said. He longed to be out patrolling the streets.
In the fall of 2006, he was hired by the Tampa Police Department. "I always looked forward to working with him," said officer Jeremy Larson. "He always told these great stories about things he did with his boys."
On the job, he worked the Super Bowl in 2009, helped with an FBI sting on juvenile prostitutes and recovered $15,000 in stolen jewelry.
He was once named officer of the month for District Two for investigating a complex case of child neglect.
In 2009, he was commended for performing CPR on an infant who had stopped breathing.
In April, he traveled to Washington, D.C., to serve as an honor guard at the National Law Enforcement Memorial Service, where he went to honor fallen fellow officer Cpl. Mike Roberts, who was killed in August 2009.
The blemish in his file?
He didn't enjoy paperwork. A supervisor helped him improve his writing for reports.
Last year, Curtis moved his family an hour north of Tampa, to the little town of Webster, in Sumter County, where his wife's parents own a 500-acre ranch. He wanted the boys to grow up with land, cows, horses, donkeys, pigs and chickens. And they needed room for their dogs — labs and a Chihuahua named Bama.
Curtis and his wife moved into an older home on the property, next door to Kelly's parents, and she started homeschooling their three oldest sons: Austin, 9; Sean, 6 and Tyler, 5. The couple had just baptized their baby, 8-month-old Hunter, at St. Anne's Catholic Church.
Most days, neighbors said, they would see Curtis outside roughhousing with his boys, taking them bass fishing on his pontoon boat on one of the nearby lakes, driving them around on golf carts and four-wheelers. "He set up this game camera in the woods so the boys could watch deer and other animals at night," said his father-in-law. "He wasn't much for hunting. But he loved watching wildlife."
Monday afternoon, Bowers waved goodbye to his son-in-law about 3:30 p.m. as Curtis left for work. Curtis drove to a friend's house in Dade City, where he picked up his patrol car, then reported to the Tampa Police Department.
He worked out in the gym before his shift began.
"He'd tell me about running down all these suspects, chasing down burglars on foot and stuff," said his cousin, Clark.
"And I'd always tell him, 'You better be careful. You'll end up in the news one day.' "
But Curtis never worried, Clark said. "He just loved feeling like he was doing something important."
Times researcher John Martin and staff writer Laura J. Nelson contributed to this report. Lane DeGregory can be reached at email@example.com and (727) 893-8825.