Slain Zephyrhills teen remembered as a 'gentle giant'

ZEPHYRHILLS — Sam Smith had a red punching bag in the back yard of his parents' house where he would train and dream about becoming a mixed martial arts athlete or even get on Ultimate Fighting Championship.

But in a real fight, his friends and family say, he'd be the first to walk away.

That's what they say happened Saturday night at a house party when another man challenged Smith to a fight. Smith, 19, was sitting in a lawn chair refusing to throw a punch when the other man knocked him out with one blow, then continued pummeling him. Smith was taken to a local hospital where he died early Sunday morning.

"He was sitting down the whole time," said his girlfriend, Rheannon Bahneman, 19.

Pasco deputies arrested Richard Starks Jr., 27, on a charge of second-degree murder. The married father of two remained in the Pasco County jail Monday with bail set at $150,000.

He and Smith were strangers, Bahneman said.

Jason Wansor, a friend of Starks' who witnessed the fight, told the Times that Starks, a redhead, was upset over Smith calling him a "ginger" and taunting him for having "weak knees." Wansor also said people were drinking rum and vodka at the party, which may have helped fuel the fight.

On Monday, friends of Smith trickled into his parents' home off State Road 54 just west of Zephyrhills. His new puppy, Billy, ran around the yard with other dogs as the group reminisced about the 6-foot-6 man his father, John, called a "gentle giant."

He was kind and mellow and liked to laugh, his friend Zak Broughan, 22, said, and gave "the best hugs in the world."

Smith, who graduated in 2010 from Wiregrass Ranch High School, was big into video games and doing things outdoors. He preferred to be barefoot.

"He was a very good friend," Kyle Youngblood said. "He would help you any way he could."

Smith's mother, Mary, said she was amazed at the sea of cars parked outside her house the day after her son's death.

"I did not realize the friends that he had," she said.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or on Twitter at @mmoorheadtimes.

Slain Zephyrhills teen remembered as a 'gentle giant' 07/25/11 [Last modified: Monday, July 25, 2011 11:52pm]

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