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Bail agents under scrutiny in St. Petersburg McDonald's drive-through shooting

ST. PETERSBURG — Minutes after the gunshot went off in a McDonald's drive-through on Wednesday, the 911 calls rolled in.

"(There's) a shot victim in the car," a man said. "I need the police and the paramedics."

The operator asked if the victim was still conscious, if she was still breathing. Then: "Is there serious bleeding?"

The caller paused, yelled to someone else.

"Yes," he said.

Sirens blared in the background, the sound of St. Petersburg police officers and paramedics arriving at the restaurant at 4595 34th St. S to find Vonceia S. Welch, 29, in the passenger seat of a sedan with gunshot wounds to the head and hand. Police believe she held up her hand in response to the gunman approaching. Paramedics rushed her to a hospital, where she was in stable, but critical condition as of Thursday afternoon.

Welch was the casualty of a fugitive arrest gone wrong. A group of bond agents was after the man sitting in the back seat of the sedan, 26-year-old Deveon Stokes, who had skipped bail on a cocaine possession charge.

About 2:30 p.m., a sports car driven by Ivey Dale Persha, 44, drove up to the white sedan, front-to-front, while a sport utility vehicle blocked in the sedan from the side, according to police. Darrell Ingram, working for Kyle's Kwik Bail Bonds, emerged from the SUV holding a .40-caliber Glock semiautomatic pistol and stuck it through the partially opened passenger-side window. The sedan's driver, Joshua Allonso Malone, 26, stepped on the gas. Then, the gun went off. Ingram, 45, told police it was an accident.

"This is one of the more unusual cases that I've seen," St. Petersburg assistant police Chief James Previtera said at a news conference on Thursday.

Detectives are continuing to review the case with the Pasco-Pinellas State Attorney's Office to decide whether charges are warranted against the agents. The two Florida statutes that govern the actions of bail agents allow them to use reasonable and necessary force to catch a fugitive, Previtera said. Authorities are examining several factors in the case that the statutes may or may not apply to, including the licensing of the bail agents, the obligation to reduce risk to the public while making an arrest and the use of a firearm.

"The mere power to arrest somebody does not give you the implied authority to point a firearm at them during the course of an arrest," Previtera said. "The standard is the same for a law enforcement officer or any citizen out there. They would have to feel that there's imminent threat to their own safety … and to the lives of someone else for them to do that."

He said that if charges are brought forward, the minimum charge the bond agents could face is culpable negligence, meaning that they showed reckless disregard for human life.

Florida statutes require that bail agents be licensed by state. Ingram and two other bond agents who were with him in the SUV — Carolyn Hope, 61, and Marcus Long, 41 — are licensed, according to state records. But a license search under Persha's name turns up nothing. Persha also has a criminal history with charges including smuggling of contraband and aggravated battery on a police officer in 1991. In 2001, he was acquitted of first-degree murder, court records show.

Persha and Long could not be reached for comment. A woman who answered a phone listed for Hope declined to comment. Ingram is being represented by Tampa-based lawyer Mark O'Brien.

"We have former law enforcement officials that are looking into all of the facts to conduct our own investigation," O'Brien said. "And we look forward to working with the St. Petersburg Police Department and the State Attorney's Office to hopefully show that Mr. Ingram did nothing wrong."

The man they were after, Stokes, was taken into custody Wednesday. State records detail a lengthy criminal history dating to 2007. He served 20 months in prison on charges of extortion and grand theft of a motor vehicle. He was released in May 2014, and was arrested a month later, accused of cocaine possession, records show. His most recent arrest was in June.

Malone, the sedan's driver, was arrested on unrelated aggravated assault and firearm possession charges from an Oct. 19 incident where police said he shot at three people, one of them a toddler. Police said no one was injured in the shooting, which occurred at the 3400 block of Queensboro Avenue S.

In Florida, bail agents have 60 days to return a fugitive before they have to pay the full bond. Wednesday marked 61 days since Stokes missed his court date on felony drug possession charges, according to court records.

The agents from Kyle's Kwik Bail Bonds would have been on the hook for his $21,000 bond if they hadn't found him.

Despite what was at stake, Previtera said Thursday that the circumstances of the takedown were troubling.

"Certainly we're concerned about the way this went down," he said. "There's no gray area on that."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or kvarn@tampabay.com. Follow @kathrynvarn.

Bail agents under scrutiny in St. Petersburg McDonald's drive-through shooting 11/12/15 [Last modified: Thursday, November 12, 2015 11:07pm]
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