TAMPA — Dyante Neal felt like celebrating when he arrived in Ybor City last week.
Neal, 25, had recently been offered a new job and was making plans to enroll at Hillsborough Community College to finish his associate’s degree and move out of his mother’s Tampa home.
A former standout high school football player in Georgia, the man friends and family called Tay wanted to be a football coach — like the coaches who had influenced him, said brother Eric Vaughan.
“He was really looking forward to to starting that journey," Vaughan said.
Neal’s journey ended Sept. 26 on E Seventh Avenue. While Neal tried to avoid arguing with a man on the sidewalk, Tampa police say another man suddenly punched him in the face. Neal fell, striking his head on the pavement.
He was take off life support on Tuesday and pronounced dead. Then on Friday police arrested a 32-year-old man on a charge of manslaughter in Neal's death.
“I’m happy that he was caught,” Vaughan said, “and I hope he spends a lot of time in prison thinking about the devastation that he has caused.”
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The incident took place at about 2:30 a.m., on a Thursday, in the 1700 block of E Seventh Avenue.
Video obtained by detectives show Neal appeared to be trying to defuse the situation, said Tampa police spokesman Steve Hegarty. But the man got into Neal’s face and a crowd formed around them.
Then the man who was arrested — Justin Jasper, 32 — got out of a car and punched Neal, police said.
“It appears that (Neal) was trying to avoid a conflict while he was in this heated discussion,” Hegarty said. “While that was going on other people started to gather and the assailant came on the scene very aggressively and punched him.”
While Neal was lying on the pavement, Jasper picked up a portable speaker Neal had been carrying and threw it at him, Hegarty said.
By the time Neal arrived at Tampa General Hospital, his brother said his brain was barely functioning. Within days, he was brain dead. His family decided to take him off life support on Tuesday, and the case turned into a homicide investigation.
Jasper had not yet been booked into the Hillsborough County jail late Friday.
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Vaughan said avoiding conflict sounds just like his brother. He said Neal was a soft-spoken and friendly jokester who liked to playfully tease people but wasn’t the type to start a fight.
Born in New York and raised in Georgia, Neal was the youngest of three siblings, the “baby” of the family, Vaughan said.
He played middle linebacker for the North Cobb High School Warriors in Kennesaw, Ga., moved to St. Petersburg to live with Vaughan after graduation and started working toward his associate’s degree at St. Petersburg College.
Several months ago, Neal and his mother Dionne moved into a home in Tampa. After taking a break from school, Neal was working to enroll at HCC to finish his associate’s degree. After that, he wanted to get a teaching degree so he could become a football coach.
“It finally clicked that that was something he was passionate about,” said Vaughan, 32, who now lives in New York.
Neal had a strong bond with his mother but was ready to strike out on his own, Vaughan said. A week before the assault, Neal was talking to Vaughn about finding his own apartment and roommates.
After his family decided to have Neal taken off life support, hospital staff took him into an operating room for organ removal. His family finds comfort that in death, Neal will help others live.
The family has created a GoFundMe page titled Justice for Tay to cover the cost of transporting his remains to Georgia and his funeral there.
Before the arrest was announced Friday, the mother had posted this message to Facebook:
“I will not rest until the coward that murdered my son is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” wrote Dionne Neal, a social worker who helps homeless families find housing. “I pray no other mother has to ever feel this pain which is now my new normal.”
Vaughan had told the Tampa Bay Times before the arrest that the suspect should come forward and accept responsibility for what he took from the family.
“He’s truly taken the brightest light from all of us and he needs to own up to that,” he said. “It was completely senseless and did not need to happen.”