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Tampa ice cream man may lose use of his hands after roadside robbery and shooting

TAMPA — He had worked with his hands his entire life, first as an airplane mechanic and later as an ice cream truck driver, handing kids pineapple frozen pops for $1.

Now it's not known whether Michael Keetley will have the use of those hands again after a group of robbers shot him several times on Saturday — all for the mere $12 he carried that day.

"That wouldn't even buy them new bullets," Keetley's father, Thomas, said Sunday.

Michael Keetley, 39, an East Bay High School graduate, grew up in the Ruskin-Sun City Center area with his head under car hoods. He enrolled in a Clearwater aviation mechanic school and landed jobs working on small planes until Delta Air Lines hired him to work on jets.

He spent nine years in Atlanta before Delta laid him off about four years ago. He hoped to get back into the industry, his father said, but airlines kept crashing into bankruptcy.

Keetley moved back home, fixed odds and ends and decided to sell ice cream about a year ago, perhaps spurred by his love for children.

He bought a Chevy van, tore open its roof and used sheet metal to create a taller roof that would allow him to stand up inside. He cut open a side service window so he could serve kids who came running up.

He painted his van purple with green flames and bought pineapple soda and ice cream in flavors such as pineapple and pumpkin. Many of his customers were the children of Wimauma migrant farmworkers, so Keetley sold most of his wares for $1 or less, never making much.

"He was able to pay for gas and get by," Thomas Keetley said. "He said he felt like he was turning his life around."

Michael Keetley had been robbed once before when a man jumped in his van and snatched a money bag, so he reinforced his service window to prevent a repeat occurrence. He always ended his days before dark.

On Saturday, he had gassed up his van for the next day and headed home about 6:30 p.m. to get ready for a date when four people waved him down on the 4000 block of Old U.S. 41.

He thought they were customers, but as the van pulled over, the group ran up and demanded cash, Hillsborough County sheriff's officials said.

Two men and two women boarded the van and told Keetley to turn around.

"Why should I turn around," he responded, according to what he told his father.

The next moment someone shot him in the leg, dropping him to the floor.

"And they pumped the rest in him," Thomas Keetley said.

A bullet went into his chest and into his left arm and another went through his right knuckles and wrist. The robbers ran off, and Michael Keetley picked himself up and drove to a nearby house using his mangled right hand to steer. His left arm wouldn't move.

Casts covered his arms on Sunday and he went "in and out" while undergoing surgeries to repair his wounds, his father said.

Hillsborough detectives have no leads in the case, sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said.

At Keetley's bedside, Thomas Keetley scratched his son's nose and sideburns on request, always wondering what the future held.

"They don't know what use his hands will have in the future," Thomas Keetley said.

Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or

Tampa ice cream man may lose use of his hands after roadside robbery and shooting 01/24/10 [Last modified: Sunday, January 24, 2010 11:43pm]
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