In the early morning hours of Aug. 13, when coastal and mobile home residents prepared to evacuate as Hurricane Charley approached the gulf coast, a bloody scene was played out on a dark country road on the eastern end of Hernando County.
A 20-year-old man climbed into the cab of a green Ford Ranger allegedly to swap drugs with Robert Ford IV of Holiday.
The deal wasn't quite sealed when a 19-year-old accomplice allegedly approached the passenger side window and opened fire with a small-caliber handgun. Ford was killed instantly. One round struck his passenger, Shannon Garvin, 26, in the back of her head, court records show. She died the next day.
"They came up to the truck and just started blasting," said sheriff's spokeswoman Deputy Donna Black. "It was not a drug deal that went bad; it was a preplanned murder. They just caught these people off guard."
Mark Andrew Meyer, 20, of Alachua and William Gentry Mater, 19, of High Springs are scheduled to appear in circuit court today to enter formal pleas to two counts of first-degree murder, armed robbery and armed burglary in connection with the slayings of Ford and Garvin.
Prosecutors have filed notice that they intend to seek the death penalty, but State Attorney Brad King has not made a final decision.
As the investigation into the case continues, so far the most solid link detectives have found between the victims and the suspects were cellular phone calls made between Meyer and Ford.
Beyond that, interviews with authorities and relatives of the victims provide little information that would suggest how the paths of the four individuals would intersect on a dark country road and end in double murder.
"I have no clue," said Robert Ford III, 59, father of one of the victims. "It is just unbelievable."
Authorities said Ford and Meyer arranged the meeting along a desolate stretch of Remington Road in Ridge Manor. Court documents indicate that the calls were made around the time the shootings occurred. Investigators requested the telephone records from both men. Those records will likely shed more light into what transpired before that early morning rendezvous.
"It was a drug ripoff from the beginning," Black said. "It was supposed to be a ruse where Meyer and Mater were supposed to bring drugs to Ford. Ford was going to purchase the drugs, and in turn he was going to provide cocaine and marijuana. The two in the pickup truck never had a chance."
A resident who lives on Remington Road discovered Ford dead beside his truck, and Garvin unconscious about 4:45 a.m. that Friday morning. Investigators later found a small plastic container with a small amount of marijuana under the armrest and another cellular phone with "Big Oskey" written on tape on the back, according to court documents.
Meyer and Mater were accompanied in the car by Kimmian Hines, 17, of Alachua. Assistant State Attorney Don Scaglione said Hines was indicted on separate charges but declined to provide details.
Alachua County sheriff's spokesman Deputy Craig Thompson said the department has never dealt with the three suspects and has no information that they were drug dealers.
However, authorities think that Ford and Meyer had previous dealings. Detectives found Meyer's number on Ford's cellular phone.
When they pulled over Meyer's 1999 Ford F-150 hours after the killing, Alachua deputies found less than 20 grams of marijuana on him, records show.
They say Mater looted Ford's car of money, valuables and drugs, then he, Meyer and Hines headed north toward Alachua County, using the stolen drugs. Mater, a deli worker, later cleaned and disposed of the handgun, records state.
After their arrest, the suspects told investigators that the plan was for them to drive south from Alachua County and for Ford and Garvin to drive from Pinellas County so they could meet somewhere between: Remington Road off Interstate 75 and State Road 50 in Hernando.
Because of Hurricane Charley, Robert Ford III and his wife didn't learn about their son's murder until two days afterward. They, too, are unable to draw many conclusions from Ford's suspected drug ties.
Ford's mother had been vacationing at their beach house in New Jersey; his father was dealing with damage from Hurricane Charley at their property on Cayo Costa, a barrier island west of Cape Coral.
"Disbelief and shock" is how Robert Ford III described his reaction to hearing the news. The drug connection was just as jolting. In a telephone interview he hesitated to talk about it without all of the facts _ or a trial.
"I have no knowledge of anything, and I have no comment on anything like that at all," said Ford, who explained that he never met Garvin.
"It is just devastating. I hope justice is done."
Born to an affluent St. Pete Beach family, "Robbie" Ford attended Shorecrest Preparatory School, one of the oldest and most prestigious independent day schools in Florida, until 1993, when he transferred to a public school.
After graduation, he had various construction jobs but recently worked in the water sports industry. He was convicted of growing marijuana in 2002 and sentenced to 18 months of community supervision.
Despite his criminal history, those who knew Ford portrayed him as a loving son whose respect for his family was strong.
That portrait was at odds, they say, with the person who authorities say arranged a drug buy.
"I never knew Robbie to do those things," said Robert Posluszny, 24, a union carpenter from Pittstown, N.J., who recalled that as children, he, Ford and brother, Ryan, would spend summers at the shore surfing and boogey-boarding.
"I would never imagine that it would happen to someone like him," Posluszny said.
The last time they saw each other, about a year and a half ago, was at Ford's parents beach front home.
"He did not look like he was under the influence of anything," Posluszny said by telephone recently. "It is shocking but people do things. . . . I don't know what to say. It seems like it was just a random thing that happened out of the blue."
Ford later befriended Garvin, a bartender who lived in the Spring Hill section of Pasco County. Friends said Garvin would go to Ford when she and her on-again, off-again boyfriend, 43-year-old Andrew Shaw, were having their troubles.
Garvin's twin, Shawna Parker, said she met Ford only once and didn't know him well. Still, she was surprised to hear of the circumstances surrounding the case. To her knowledge, her sister was not involved in drugs, Parker said.
"She was a really happy person, full of life," Parker said. "It was a cold-blooded murder."