Guards roam the grounds on golf carts at Carlton Arms of Magnolia Valley, and fences surround the perimeter. After dark, all incoming cars must pass a sentry at the gate.
The fugitive got in almost three years ago. He had a false name and an out-of-state arson warrant. On the night of Dec. 4, 2004, he sidled up to a young, single schoolteacher on her back porch at the complex. They drank. He wanted sex. When she cried rape, he smothered her with a pillow.
Adam Calcote was convicted last year of killing Kimberly Delancey, 27, a special education teacher at Anclote Elementary School. Now her mother wants the Carlton Arms management to pay.
And she brings legal firepower.
Sandra Delancey filed a wrongful-death lawsuit Thursday against Carlton Arms and four related companies, claiming that security breaches at the Rowan Road complex led to her daughter's death. She has retained Barry Cohen, a Tampa litigator who won a $15.7-million judgment in a similar case two years ago.
"I don't like companies," Cohen told the Times on Friday, "who put their profits ahead of protecting the public."
At Carlton Arms, where the author of this article happens to live, a woman who answered the phone took a moment to check with management.
"I was told that we're not taking any calls and we have no comments," she said.
The suit's allegations boil down to this:
Before Kimberly Delancey signed her lease, Carlton Arms officials told her that the complex was safe. They told her about the guards, about the gates, and they said everyone who lived there had to go through a background check.
But Calcote escaped a background check because he moved in with his girlfriend, a leaseholder, without applying to become an official tenant.
"He was there for about eight months," Cohen said, "and the security guard just waved him in and out even though he didn't have a sticker on his car."
Experts say it's impossible to make security an ironclad guarantee. So jurors must decide whether the property managers made reasonable attempts to keep the peace.
In Tampa in 2004, three men kidnapped University of South Florida student Lai Chau from Remington Apartment Homes on 30th Street. They shot her in the head three times, but she survived. Her attackers had sneaked in through the gate by piggybacking behind a resident. A jury awarded her $15.7-million in total damages.
The payday for Cohen's firm was estimated between $3.4-million and $6.3-million.
Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan and staff writer Colleen Jenkins contributed to this report. Thomas Lake can be reached at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6245 or firstname.lastname@example.org.