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Three shot dead in Polk bar

AUBURNDALE — The Tampa DJs were living a dream, playing music and pumping up a Caribbean crowd at a weekly reggae night they worked hard to promote.

But they were gunned down without warning as they performed in an Auburndale bar early Saturday morning.

Polk County deputies first responded to a noise complaint at the brightly colored Thunderbird Inn, about 50 miles east of Tampa. Then they got word of a shooting around 2:40 a.m.

Kenisha Lewinson, who was at the show, heard the popping.

"I thought it was firecrackers," she explained. "I ask who shoot off firecracker when me dancing?"

Fatally wounded were the Tampa DJs — Antone Neely, 29, Michael S. Rattigan, 35 — and Deltona dancer Kevin Webster, 29.

Rattigan, whose stage name is Chris Rock, was part of the Tampa-based reggae DJ group Poison Dart. Neely performs under the stage name Tony Montana, a separate act that plays with Poison Dart. The Polk County Sheriff's Office identified Webster as an associate of the DJs.

Deputies held dancers in the club after the shooting, hoping for eyewitness accounts. But sheriff's officials said only some of the bar's patrons were cooperating with authorities.

"Someone knows the name of who did this, and we need that name," said Sheriff Grady Judd.

The victims' relatives and fellow performers awoke Saturday to the dreadful news.

Tanesha Young, Neely's wife of five years, got the call at 3 a.m. Her sister immediately called everyone they knew to gather at the family's home to tell them what happened.

On Saturday afternoon, they were still spinning.

"I haven't even told the children yet," said Young, 25, who was raising four children with Neely, ages 9, 6, 4 and 1. "What am I supposed to say? That they can't ever see their father again?"

Late Saturday, the Sheriff's Office released descriptions of two men they believe are connected with the shooting. They were seen leaving the bar, possibly in a white four-door BMW, said spokeswoman Donna Wood.

She said the shooting may be related to a May 10 incident when deputies were called to the bar after shots were fired. No one was injured, Wood said.

Friends and family described the victims as good men who loved music.

Neely worked at Kirky C's Muzik Station, a Nebraska Avenue music store.

Rattigan, one of seven DJs that formed Poison Dart, was excited about his Chaka Fridays at the Thunderbird Inn. The event was promoted with music, jerk chicken and curry goat. He'd been building a following for less than a year, and Friday was a full house that attracted as many as 300 people.

Reached at his Deltona home, Kevin Webster's father, David Webster, said he was too distraught to talk.

"He was a good son," said Webster, who said his family immigrated to the area from Jamaica. "I can't even talk, I'm just completely destroyed."

Don Rastic, a Tampa promoter who worked with Poison Dart, said he saw Rattigan and Neely shortly before the show. They were at Kirky C's, preparing for the gig.

He said Rattigan immigrated from Jamaica to pursue a boyhood dream of being a DJ. The two were looking forward to a good turnout, Rastic said.

"Then to hear this, like, what, 10 hours later, it's crazy," Rastic said. "They're not gangsters, they're not drug dealers. They're just DJs that got a little star power."

But Rastic and others who have visited the Thunderbird said it isn't in the best area. Three times this month, deputies responded to calls of shots being fired and drugs.

Still, friends and relatives said the shooting was completely unexpected.

"They were just playing music and the next thing you know they got shot," said Sharde Edwards, 21, of Tampa, a friend of the DJs. "I'm trying to put it together."

Stephanie Garry can be reached at (727) 892-2374 or sgarry@sptimes.com.

Three shot dead in Polk bar 05/24/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 30, 2008 7:58pm]
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