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Public suicide in Pasco agonizes family, haunts stranger

David Miller of New Port Richey walks home with his 8-year-old son, Allen. Behind them is the pavilion in River Ridge, where Miller recently found Devin Olson’s body.

KAINAZ AMARIA | Times

David Miller of New Port Richey walks home with his 8-year-old son, Allen. Behind them is the pavilion in River Ridge, where Miller recently found Devin Olson’s body.

NEW PORT RICHEY — David Miller was getting ready for bed on Aug. 14 when one of his mutts started barking.

Miller, in boxer shorts and flip flops, peered outside a front window at his house on Widgeon Way. He spotted a German shepherd yelping and opened his garage door.

The German shepherd ran from Miller's garage back to a pavilion across the street in River Ridge.

Miller, 41, went inside his house, put on a pair of pants and grabbed his glasses and cell phone. He drove toward the pavilion and shined his headlights toward it.

A man's body was hanging by the dog's black nylon leash, tied to a set of white rafters in the pavilion. His blue and white tennis shoes dangled to the ground. A beer can and a cell phone, still ringing, sat on a forest green picnic table nearby.

Miller called 911 and ran back home to get his wife. A dispatcher told him to cut the man down. Miller's wife grabbed a pair of gardening shears from their garage, and Miller cut the leash.

Miller tried CPR, but it was too late to save the stranger.

"My wife kept saying, 'No, it's not real,"' Miller recalled.

The man who killed himself left behind pain and questions for his family and friends. And his public death also inflicted trauma and grief on the bystanders who came upon him — and who will always wonder if they could've stopped it.

"I think if I was 15 minutes earlier," Miller said, his face solemn as he remembered the day, "I could've caught him."

Suicide in family

Devin Olson was 23 when he died.

He liked to draw, play racing games on PlayStation and sing karaoke like Axl Rose. Those who knew him called his laugh contagious.

He wasn't too interested in school and dropped out of River Ridge High in the 10th grade. He sometimes worked as a screen printer, but had been out of work for a while and was seeking unemployment.

At times, Olson got into trouble and hung out with the wrong crowd, according to John Butcher, a childhood friend.

Olson was arrested a handful of times. In 2004, he was accused of setting an aerosol can on fire in the roadway near his house, according to a report from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. He paid a fine and was given six months' probation.

Olson also was arrested in 2005 by Port Richey police for a DUI, and adjudicated guilty, records show.

About five years ago, a cousin Olson idolized killed himself. Family and friends say Olson was haunted by the suicide.

For Olson, adulthood came quickly. Two months ago, Olson's girlfriend, Rhonda Rumore, gave birth to their son, Jacob.

Rumore lived with Olson and his family for a while, but moved out in July.

Even so, said Olson's mother Sandra, Olson sometimes rode his bike several miles to go see his son. But there was friction between Olson and his girlfriend's family, who declined to comment for this article.

A few times, Olson mentioned suicide to Butcher. The two met in eighth grade and were like brothers.

"I think he was upset, and something pushed him over the edge," said Butcher, 24. "He would say, 'I'm going to end up like my cousin Jake.' "

'He knew better'

On Aug. 13, Olson returned home from a bike ride about 11:45 p.m., according to a report from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

Olson and his sister Chelsea sat in her bedroom, talking and hanging out, the report said. Olson flexed his muscles and joked to his sister about the "pooch" belly he was getting.

About 12:45 a.m., he left home to take his German shepherd, Kiera, for a walk.

He didn't seem upset or depressed.

A few hours later, sheriff's deputies showed up to tell Sandra Olson that her son had hanged himself a block from the house.

She is still trying to figure out why this happened.

"We told him that he didn't have to go the route that Jake did," Sandra Olson said. "Nothing is ever so bad that you have to take your own life. That's why this doesn't make sense. He knew better."

She wants her son's cell phone, the one that rang constantly as Miller cut him down from the pavilion. She thinks the device may hold clues about what happened between the time her son left home and killed himself.

Investigators told Sandra Olson that the medical examiner ruled her son's death a suicide. The Sheriff's Office often holds on to the evidence in such cases, such as Devin Olson's cell phone, until toxicology results come back, said Kevin Doll, sheriff's spokesman.

The stranger down the street who discovered Olson's body is still grappling with what happened that night, too.

David Miller said he had trouble sleeping the first few nights after Olson's suicide.

Finding the body of a person who killed himself can cause long-term grief or post traumatic stress disorder, said Yeates Conwell, a psychiatry professor at the University of Rochester School of Medicine.

Olson's suicide also brought up old memories for Miller.

The investigator who showed up at the scene was the same one who helped handle the murder investigation of his sister, New Port Richey dispatcher Debbie Fossett. A jury in 2007 convicted Harvey Gene Davis Jr. of the crime.

In the midst of Olson's case, seeing the investigator who helped him through his sister's death was strangely comforting for Miller.

Still, Miller remains plagued by what-ifs. He wonders what would have happened if one of the dogs barked earlier, or if something drew him outside to help Olson before he killed himself.

"Maybe," he said, pausing, "there's something I could have done."

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at cspencer@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4609.

By the numbers

Suicide is the ninth-leading cause of death in Florida. It is the third-leading cause of death for residents age 15 to 24.

85 Suicides in Pasco County in 2007.*

64 Suicides in Pasco County in 1997.

2,570 Suicides in Florida in 2007.*

2,097 Suicides in Florida in 1997.

* 2007 data is most recent available

Source: Florida Department of Health, Office of Health Statistics and Assessment; Florida Suicide Prevention Coalition

Fast facts

In the know

• Warning signs of suicide include acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, increasing alcohol or drug use, withdrawal from friends of family.

• Other factors can increase the risk of suicide, including history of trauma or abuse; stressful life events; loss of job, money or a relationship; and isolation or rejection stemming from a lack of social support.

• All talk of suicide should be taken seriously. Encourage the person to see a doctor or mental health professional.

For help

Call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit www.save.org.

Sources: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.

Public suicide in Pasco agonizes family, haunts stranger 08/29/09 [Last modified: Saturday, August 29, 2009 3:58pm]

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