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Man killed in road rage incident served 10 years in prison for previous traffic fight

Gary Durham, shown here with wife Heather, was shot to death a in a road rage incident Wednesday in Plant City. The couple had been married 18 months. [Courtesy of Heather Durham]
Published Aug. 11, 2016

PLANT CITY — Fifteen years ago, Gary Lynn Durham killed a man after arguing in traffic. For that, he did 10 years in prison.

On Wednesday morning, Durham got into another rush-hour fight. This time, Hillsborough sheriff's deputies said, the other driver killed him.

It happened before sunrise on a rural stretch of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, east of Forbes Road in Plant City.

Durham, 40, stopped his black Mazda pickup in the middle of the eastbound lane, deputies said. He got out and walked toward Robert Padgett, who had stopped behind the truck in a Ford sport utility vehicle.

Exactly why the men stopped is unclear. But sheriff's officials called what happened next "the end result of a road rage incident."

As the men argued, Padgett, 42, pulled a handgun, deputies said. He shot Durham at least once.

As the man lay in the road, Padgett tried to administer first-aid, authorities said. When deputies arrived, Durham was dead.

Padgett has cooperated with investigators, sheriff's officials said. Sheriff's Col. Donna Lusczynski said detectives would consider whether the state's self-defense laws apply to the case. No charges have been filed pending a review by the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office.

"It's been a very taxing day," Padgett said at midday outside his Valrico home. He declined further comment, saying authorities had advised him not to speak about the incident.

It was an ironic end for Durham, a man who lost a decade of freedom for what police had also dubbed a case of "road rage."

In October 2001, Durham turned in front of another driver, Timothy James Gibbs, at the intersection of N Armenia and W Linebaugh avenues. A witness said Durham yelled at Gibbs before stepping out and walking toward his car.

He got back in his car, made a U-turn and pulled into a parking lot where Gibbs had stopped, according to a Tampa police report. A witness saw Durham walk toward Gibbs with his arms extended. The two men yelled at each other. Durham punched Gibbs in the face.

Gibbs fell and hit his head on concrete. Durham got back in his car and drove off. Gibbs died days later from a brain hemorrhage and skull fracture.

Durham was convicted of manslaughter in 2002. He served about 10 years in prison and was ordered to take anger management classes. It was his third, and longest prison stint, having previously racked up convictions for aggravated assault, grand theft and trafficking in stolen property, state records show. He was released from prison in 2012 but remained on probation until 2017.

"It's a shame that he didn't learn his lesson while in jail," Gibbs' widow, Nancy Gibbs, told the Times. "I'm just glad I don't have to worry about him or running into him somewhere. It's ironic that he died in the same way as my husband."

A hand-written sign at Durham's home in Brandon discouraged reporters from making contact there. His wife, Heather, later spoke via phone about the man she knew.

She said her husband was a generous man, who gave money and rides to homeless people, liked riding dirt bikes and enjoyed working on anything with a motor.

They met through mutual friends in 2013. They married in February 2015.

She knew about his time in prison. She believes what Durham always maintained: that two men got in a fight, and he didn't mean to kill Gibbs.

"Just because he went to jail, that did not define who he was," Heather Durham said. "He wasn't this angry person who went around angry all the time. People only see the side that the media spreads. They don't know him like I did or his family did."

Gary Durham had worked for Your Green Team, a lawn care business in Plant City, for about six months, his wife said. They told each other "I love you," before he left their Brandon home about 6 a.m. Wednesday like he always does on a work day.

When someone from Your Green Team called and said her husband hadn't shown up for work, Heather Durham called authorities to see if he'd been involved in an accident. When that turned up nothing, she got in her own car and retraced his route.

She came upon the blocked intersection at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Forbes Road, where deputies told her what happened. She said she's not passing judgment on her husband or the man who killed him.

"I don't know what happened this time, who was the aggressor or if both people were at fault," she said. "In my mind it doesn't matter, because he died over something stupid. It's not going to bring him back."

The two-lane road where Durham died is dotted with lines of trees and clusters of mobile homes and business. Cathi White, a manager at a Marathon gas station nearby, said she could hear a bevy of gunshots early Wednesday about the time when rush-hour traffic starts to pick up.

"It went 'boom, boom, boom, boom,' " White said. "I saw the deputies blocking off the road, and I knew something was wrong down there."

"It seems like this world's going to hell," she said. "It's getting worse and worse. Nothing surprises me anymore."

Times senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

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