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Gun found on suspect's escape route

Published Sep. 28, 2005

Tests will show whether the weapon is the one that was used in the shooting of Barbara Utsey on Wednesday.

Mounted volunteers for the Citrus County Sheriff's Office found a gun in a thickly wooded area Friday along the suspected getaway route of a man accused of shooting his mother to death outside a convenience store two days earlier.

The volunteer "Sheriff's Posse" also found a blue shirt about a quarter mile from where the gun was discovered. The shirt matches a description given by a witness in the alleged matricide Wednesday, said sheriff's spokeswoman Ronda Hemminger Evan.

"There will have to be other testing, such as ballistics testing, to see if this was the weapon used in the crime," Evan said.

Evan was unable to provide a description of the gun or shirt. But she said they would have been discarded before a deputy spotted the van driven by James Utsey, 30, of Inglis, on W Dunklin Street and attempted to pull it over.

Investigators say Utsey killed his mother, Barbara Utsey, 64, a well-known community activist, outside the Coastal food mart on SR 488 Wednesday morning after chasing her car into the parking lot.

The gun was found off N Matsonford Avenue at about 3:15 p.m. by one of 13 mounted volunteers combing a wooded area. The shirt was found sometime earlier about a quarter mile away near N Husky Avenue, also not far from the road.

Both locations are roughly southeast of the Coastal mart at SR 488 and CR 495 and in between the store and where the deputy spotted Utsey's blue Dodge van. Utsey was stopped after a roughly two-mile chase.

If the tests come back positive, they would help an investigation already aided by detailed witness accounts.

Still, two days after the shooting, investigators were still unable to answer what is most likely the most troubling question to people who know the family: Why?

Evan said detectives have spoken to members of the Utsey family and others, all of whom were unable to provide an explanation for what led to the shooting.

"Right now we don't have anything on why this tragedy happened," Evan said.

She said investigators are concentrating on gathering evidence from three crime scenes: the store, the place where the van was stopped and now the locations of the gun and shirt.

Assistant State Attorney Don Scaglione said that finding a motive for the shooting is not necessarily a priority of investigators. Why is not something prosecutors have to prove when a case goes to trial, he said.

"The "Why?' question is important to lay people and news media," Scaglione said. "Motive or "Why?' is not an element of the crime, so it's not really an aspect of the investigation."

"A lot of times the underlying issues are not admissible in court and a trial jury never knows them."

Jim Gilroy, Barbara Utsey's brother, said the family is still unsure why James Utsey may have killed his mother. "We just can't understand it," Gilroy said.

At 10 a.m. Friday, Gilroy and his daughters went to the site where Mrs. Utsey was gunned down. They mourned there and left behind flowers and a teddy bear, gestures they believe Barbara Utsey would have made.

About a week before the slaying, Gilroy, who owns a marina transport business, shuttled the Utseys, including James, down Kings Bay to a restaurant in Crystal River. "We just had a great time," he said. "There was no sign of friction."

During dinner, Gilroy offered his nephew a job. James Utsey needed the boost, Gilroy said. He had recently injured his back and needed a cane to walk and was unemployed.

"He hit an all time-low," Gilroy said. "He really appreciated the opportunity to go to work."

Court records show Utsey recently had twice filed lawsuits against Florida Power Corp., once in August and again in September, claiming he was injured in a tour of one of its Crystal River plants.

He claimed that he tripped on the spacing between grated stairs and fell more than 6 feet, losing consciousness briefly and suffering back injuries that caused him chronic pain. He was seeking $1-million.

Utsey was living in a trailer parked at his parent's home in Crystal River until about a month ago when he moved it to Inglis, Gilroy said. As to why Utsey left home, Gilroy said he was unsure.

While friends of the family have claimed Utsey suffered from mental illness, Gilroy said he was not aware of it.

"I don't know why anybody would say that," he said. "He didn't show any signs of mental problems." Gilroy said that he and his nephew recently delivered a boat to Pensacola. "I let him drive," Gilroy said proudly.

Again, James Utsey offered no indication of trouble. "He showed no signs of being a violent person," Gilroy said.