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Victim in fatal Tampa Dunkin’ punch case identified

Vonelle Cook is the man who was punched by a Dunkin’ manager after calling him a racial slur, authorities said. The manager has been charged with manslaughter.
A 77-year-old man who died after he was punched by a Tampa Dunkin' manager has been identified in court records as Vonelle Cook.
A 77-year-old man who died after he was punched by a Tampa Dunkin' manager has been identified in court records as Vonelle Cook. [ Photo illustration by ASHLEY DYE and MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published May 25, 2021|Updated Mar. 8

TAMPA — A 77-year-old man who died after a Dunkin’ manager punched him has been identified in court records.

Vonelle Cook is the victim in the case that led to the arrest of the manager on a manslaughter charge on May 4, according to a charging document filed by the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office. The state attorney and the Tampa Police Department have withheld Cook’s name, citing Marsy’s Law, a voter-approved amendment to the state Constitution that was meant to protect crime victims but that deprives the public of information long available under Florida’s public records law.

Related: UPDATE: Tampa Dunkin’ case: A racial slur, a fatal punch and 2 years of house arrest

Corey Pujols, 27, was initially arrested on a battery charge after the incident but was rearrested on a manslaughter charge after Cook died.

The office of Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren said in a statement Friday that prosecutors were moving forward with the manslaughter charge.

Corey Ellis Pujols, 27, has been charged with manslaughter in the death of 77-year-old Vonelle Cook.
Corey Ellis Pujols, 27, has been charged with manslaughter in the death of 77-year-old Vonelle Cook. [ Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office ]

“The charge of manslaughter is legally appropriate because Pujols intentionally punched the victim without legal justification, and the victim died as a result,” the release said.

According to police and prosecutors, the incident began when Cook, a regular customer at the restaurant on 410 S 50th St., began berating the staff over the service he was getting in the drive-through lane. After being told to leave several times, Cook parked and came inside. As he was entering, Pujols, the on-duty manager at the time, told one of his coworkers to call the police.

Once inside, Cook approached the counter and continued to argue with Pujols, who remained on the opposite side of the counter, separated by a waist-high swinging door, approximately six feet away from Cook. During the argument, Cook called Pujols the n-word.

Pujols then slowly walked forward through the swinging door to come face-to-face with Cook and, with his hands at his side, warned the Cook not to say that again. Cook repeated the racial slur, and Pujols immediately punched him in the jaw, which caused the victim to fall and hit his head. Pujols then slowly walked away from him.

Cook died in the hospital three days later.

Warren’s statement acknowledged Cook’s speech was “highly inflammatory” but still legal and “does not justify violence.”

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“While we find the victim’s words repulsive, public safety requires holding Pujols accountable for his actions,” the statement said. “As in any case, we will consider the victim’s incendiary conduct and other mitigating evidence, as well as any evidentiary and legal issues, in determining the appropriate outcome.”

Pujols is free after posting $15,000 bail and has hired a private attorney, Jamila Little, records show. Little did not returned two messages left at her office this week.

The charging document does not include Cook’s date of birth, but he appears to be the same man who made headlines in Tampa Bay in the 2000s when he was arrested and convicted on charges that would require him to register in Florida as a sexual offender.

Vonelle Cook, 62 at the time, is pictured in a 2006 file photo.
Vonelle Cook, 62 at the time, is pictured in a 2006 file photo. [ CRYSTAL L. LAUDERDALE | Tampa Bay Times ]

Cook was arrested in 2006 after police raided his home at the time, on 19th Street near University Mall, and found surveillance cameras mounted around a bed, homemade videos and DVDs and boxes of photographs of nude young men and boys, according to news reports at the time.

Police said Cook enticed teen boys into his home with comic books, video games and candy. He then used the boys for his pornographic fantasies, including filming himself performing sex acts with a 16-year-old boy, police said. At the time of his arrest, Cook told reporters that he was not guilty, saying there was no evidence the photographs were child pornography.

Cook was sentenced in 2008 to five years in prison for a range of charges including lewd and lascivious battery on a child, using a child in a sexual performance and several counts of unlawful sex with a minor. He was released in 2011.

Department of Corrections records show Cook’s listed address upon his release is a home on the 5000 block of Denver Street in Tampa. Property records show Cook is the listed owner of the home, which is three miles south of the Dunkin’ where Pujols was arrested.

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