Thursday, December 14, 2017
Public safety

Tampa police arrest suspect in 2009 slaying of UT student Ryan McCall

TAMPA — Kevin McCall was in St. Augustine with his wife when they got the news.

It was their first trip alone together since their son — University of Tampa student Ryan McCall — was murdered thirty-three months earlier, and it was just what they needed.

They visited the fort. They ducked into dives for food and beer.

And they found out that 22-year-old David Earl Williams Jr., the suspected gunman, would be charged with first-degree murder.

"It was surreal," McCall said Wednesday.

On Aug. 19, 2009, Ryan McCall was walking home from celebrating a friend's 21st birthday at the Retreat Lounge with friend Michael Harahan when a stranger jumped out of the bushes near the N Boulevard bridge and demanded money.

The gunman took the few dollars 21-year-old McCall had. Harahan heard a shot as he ran for help.

Days passed without an arrest, then months and years. But the case wasn't cold.

Kevin McCall regularly talked to Tampa Detective Sal Augeri, the officer in charge of the case. McCall knew police were gathering evidence and, in recent weeks, were close to making an arrest.

On Wednesday, that day had arrived.

Augeri filed a warrant with the State Attorney's Office to arrest Williams, who is in prison serving 15 years on previous robbery and burglary charges.

He faces charges of first-degree murder, armed robbery and attempted armed robbery in McCall's death.

Police say Williams was a "person of interest" from the start.

Eleven days after McCall's murder, Williams knocked two men to the ground in Tampa, taking their wallets and cell phone.

Two days later, he burglarized two West Tampa homes, stealing five guns, among other things.

The next day, police arrested Williams, who admitted to the robbery and burglaries. Seven months later, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

That's where he was last week when Augeri drove to Miami-Dade County to question him.

There was no "big break" in the case — no pivotal piece of information that prompted Augeri's questioning — said Tampa police Chief Jane Castor. The bits of evidence gathered over months just finally added up, she said.

Fliers long-ago posted inside Hillsborough's jails encouraged inmates to call if they had information. They announced "more than $50,000" in reward money and promised phone cards and canteen money for useful information.

Billboards across the Tampa Bay area also announced the reward money — $1,000 from Crime Stoppers, $50,000 from the Winters & Yonker law firm.

And a voice message left by Harahan's phone captured the gunman's voice. "Get over here," he said. "Get the f--- over here."

All that helped, Castor said. If Williams is convicted, the tipsters will be eligible for the reward. Castor declined to name any tipsters or say how many could be eligible.

When Augeri spoke with Williams on May 23, he admitted that he had confronted McCall and Harahan, hit Harahan in the head with a firearm and robbed him of his cell phone and wallet.

But Williams claimed a second suspect shot and killed McCall.

Police don't have any evidence that a second suspect was involved, they say. From the start, they've only referred to it as a one-man attack.

"He's the man," Castor said.

• • •

On the University of Tampa's campus, administrators rejoiced Wednesday, but elsewhere on the school's grounds, some said they hadn't heard about the details of that tragic morning.

McCall was a senior when he died. It has been nearly three years.

"I guess it's our nature to move on," said 18-year-old UT freshmen Brendan Fogarty.

Those who do remember, think of that fall as a frightening time, when students were sure to walk in groups after dark.

And there are those who will never forget.

For most of UT's cross country team members, it was the first time someone close to them had passed away, said 24-year-old Tony Nicolosi, the team's captain in 2009.

"I had never experienced anything of that magnitude," said Jake Bailey, one of McCall's roommates. "It was tough to keep thinking about it."

Now, all incoming teammates hear of McCall — the hard-working runner who would start practice in goofy workout clothes and was trying to beat his two-minute 800 meter dash.

The team's uniforms bear his initials.

"Nothing can bring Ryan back, but this is how we honor his memory," cross country coach Jarrett Slavin said Wednesday. "As long as I'm here as coach, that's what we're going to do."

The university also hosts a track meet called the Ryan McCall Invitational in his honor, and McCall's family puts on an annual race and awards scholarships to high school runners.

The family's goal is to keep Ryan's name alive, said his older brother, Kevin McCall, "through the runs that we do, the scholarships we give out, the stories we continue to tell."

• • •

The elder Kevin McCall said he felt neither relief nor joy when he heard Williams was being charged. Instead, his family simply views it as the next step.

It has been a long 21/2 years and he knows it could take years before the case makes it to trial.

"We waited this long," McCall said. "We have a lot of faith and trust in law enforcement and the judicial system."

Williams, who remains in the South Florida Reception Center in Miami-Dade County, has been arrested 30 times, according to state records.

His first arrest, records show, came at age 11, when he was accused of beating up a fellow student and robbing him.

As a juvenile, he was convicted of petty theft, burglary and aggravated assault with a weapon on a law enforcement officer.

The aggravated assault charge came in 2007 — when Williams was 16 years old. He was driving a 1999 Altima, when a Tampa police officer tried to pull him over.

Williams wouldn't stop. Instead, he rammed his car into the police vehicle. The chase ended when Williams ran his car into a concrete barrier and it caught fire, police say.

Six months later, while serving time in a juvenile detention facility, Williams battered an employee, state records show.

A judge ordered that Williams remain confined until his 19th birthday.

He got out in July 2009 — five months after turning 19 — after serving nine months for preventing firefighters from putting out a blaze.

He was only free 27 days before, police say, he shot McCall.

Times news researcher John Martin and staff writer Marissa Lang contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.

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