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Murder suspect called "quiet'

(ran PC edition of Pasco Time)

Authorities searching for answers offer no motive in the case of a son accused of shooting his mother in a parking lot.

The trailer James Utsey parked at Northwood Estates earlier this month had no television and a broken heater.

A string of Christmas lights, wrapped around a potted plant outside his front step, gave the place at least the hint of holiday flair.

The decorative touch was odd, neighbors said, because Utsey did not come across as festive. "He was very quiet," said Bill Bailey, a Michigan resident who pulled his recreational vehicle into the park a week ago.

"He didn't act like he wanted to get acquainted," Bailey said. "Usually, people who camp out at trailer parks like to talk."

Utsey remained in jail Thursday, accused of gunning down his mother, Barbara Utsey, a well-known community activist, Wednesday morning in a convenience store parking lot.

Investigators with the Citrus County Sheriff's Office could provide no answers to what may have prompted Utsey to chase his mother's Jeep Cherokee into the Coastal food mart at County Roads 488 and 495 in DeRosa and fire as many as five shots at her as she attempted to run away.

"We still do not know the answer to why this happened," said Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Ronda Hemminger Evan.

The shooting took place around 10 a.m., when witnesses said Mrs. Utsey pulled into the parking lot in a hurry and that Utsey pulled in behind her in a van.

Mrs. Utsey, 64, got out of the Jeep and ran toward the west side of the store where her son chased her and then fired four or five shots, according to the sheriff's office.

Utsey, 30, was apprehended by deputies after a 2-mile chase through the Citrus Springs community following the shooting. He was arrested on charges of first-degree murder and fleeing police.

Detectives executed a search warrant of Utsey's Dodge van Thursday. But Evan said they would not be releasing information on what, if anything, was seized from the vehicle until they have examined Mrs. Utsey's Jeep, which they expect to do today.

The Jeep has a smashed driver's side window and a small hole in the passenger window, indicating there may have been shooting before Mrs. Utsey pulled into the Coastal mart.

Utsey was being held without bail in the medical center at the Citrus County Detention Facility under a special watch, said Warden David Eads. Eads said he is not in isolation and that the watch is standard treatment, given the crime for which Utsey is accused.

"Because of the charges and the nature of the charges, we don't want to take any chances," Eads said.

An autopsy was performed on Mrs. Utsey Thursday, but the results are not expected for some time, Evan said.

So far, Utsey has declined to speak with investigators. He did at one point Thursday agree to an interview with reporters. But he changed his mind after a public defender learned of the prospective interview and appealed to Utsey to back out, which he did.

Assistant State Attorney Don Scaglione said he has asked for a grand jury to be assembled within 21 days to hear the case. He said he will meet with detectives as their investigation progresses to determine whether to continue pursuing the first-degree murder charge.

First-degree murder applies to homicides that are considered premeditated or that are committed along with certain other crimes, such as robbery. The latter does not appear to apply here.

"Hypothetically, if you pursue somebody and they're running away from you, there seems to be some type of intent," Scaglione said.

Friends of the family said Utsey is believed to suffer from some form of mental illness. They were reluctant to discuss personal problems Mrs. Utsey had with her son but stressed that she went out of her way to provide for him.

"She spent a lot of time working with him and some of his challenges," said Crystal River resident and Mayor Curtis Rich, who is friends with the Utseys.

"Something unusual happened," he said. "It certainly wasn't because she didn't show her affection, love and care. She was the mother that was always there."

Mrs. Utsey was known for her volunteer work with such groups as Citrus Abuse Shelter Association, the Pilot Club of Crystal River and lately the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.

Jackie Coon, manager of the trailer park where Utsey lived west of U.S. 19 and just south of Inglis, said Utsey came in around Dec. 2 and paid $185 cash for the first month's rent.

"I never had any problem with him whatsoever," she said. "He was a nice young man."

Bailey, Utsey's neighbor at the park, said the few conversations he had with Utsey were short. Utsey complained that his heater was broken and said that he had no television. Bailey offered to splice his satellite connection but Utsey shrugged off the gesture.

People who knew him in high school said Utsey was a normal student, if somewhat shy. He played soccer and drove a vintage Mustang.

"He was a pretty quiet guy, pretty easygoing," said an acquaintance, Chuck Price, also a member of the class of 1988.

Heather White, whose last name during high school was Langston, had been friends with Utsey since middle school. She also remembered him as pleasant and quiet and said he was an average student. "There was no sign of violence or anything like that," White said. "He smiled a lot."

State records showed only one previous arrest for Utsey. It happened seven years ago _ Nov. 27, 1993 _ in Daytona Beach Shores. The charge was carrying a concealed weapon. Prosecutors later abandoned the case, although the reasoning was not known late Thursday.

At 10:42 p.m. on the night of that arrest, a Daytona Beach Shores police officer stopped Utsey as he drove a 1976 Pontiac. The officer said Utsey's tag was expired.

According to police reports, the officer peered into the vehicle and noticed Utsey's passenger trying to hide a large yellow cup. The officer went to that side of the car and the passenger opened the door, spilling the cup, which was full of beer.

The officer ordered the men out of the vehicle and searched for more hidden containers of alcohol, the report said. That search yielded something else: a loaded Browning .380-caliber automatic handgun tucked under the front passenger seat.

"That's mine. I put it there," the officer quoted Utsey as saying.