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Hillsborough deputies investigate homicide near playground

Crime scene tape marked the area where a man was found dead Tuesday at University Area Community Park. [EMILY MCCONVILLE | Times]
Crime scene tape marked the area where a man was found dead Tuesday at University Area Community Park. [EMILY MCCONVILLE | Times]
Published Jul. 21, 2015

TAMPA — A body was discovered Tuesday morning near the playground at University Area Community Park, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

Deputies said that Samuel Elijah Clarke, 25, was found between the basketball courts and the playground of the park.

Hillsborough Sheriff's Col. Donna Lusczynski said the office received a 911 call just after 8:30 a.m., likely from a park employee. The caller reported that they found the body in the park, about 30 minutes before it was set to open for the day.

The park never opened. Deputies kept it closed as they investigated the crime scene. They also determined that the victim was dressed in female clothing.

Lusczynski said Clarke had suffered upper body trauma but did not elaborate. Deputies classified the death as a homicide.

There are security cameras posted around the park and community center, at 140th Avenue and 22nd Street, but it was not known if they capture what happened to Clarke, or who may have been with the victim at the time.

Clarke was last known to have lived on Patterson Street in Tampa and in 2013 was arrested for prostitution.

Gerald McClendon, 47, lives in an apartment complex next to the park and said the area is generally safe. But Trudy Harrison, who lives with McClendon, disagreed. She'd like to see more law enforcement officers in the area.

"We could use a little more help ...," said Harrison, 48. "It's ridiculous. There's always something going on on 22nd or Fletcher (Avenue.)"

Darius Collins, 24, lives on Bearss Avenue, said he often plays basketball on the center's courts. When he drove by the park and saw the yellow police tape, he decided to make a video decrying the latest in a string of violent deaths in Tampa.

He said the park is a hub for North Tampa, a place for kids to come out and play basketball. But on Tuesday, the park stayed closed while detectives investigated the homicide.

Said Collins: "Right now, a lot of people (aren't) going to come to this park anymore."

Contact Emily McConville at emcconville@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @emmcconville.

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