Son's death deepens troubled family's tale
By AMY HERDY, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA -- The crash woke the neighbors. Peering out their windows, they saw a ruined Taurus, smashed into a tree. The smoke from the inflated airbag was still drifting.
After getting out, the driver never said a word. When police arrived, he reached into his crumpled car and pulled out a long silver gun.
"Drop your weapon, sir!" an officer shouted.
Instead, the driver clutched the .357 revolver. The officer fired five shots from his department-issued Glock. The man fell, still holding his gun.
It was 3:13 a.m. Wednesday.
The man on the ground was Kendrick Hardcastle IV, the 40-year-old eldest son of a South Tampa family, a man who had led a life of both privilege and tragedy.
The detective recognized Hardcastle. Less than two months before, he had met him in a Tampa apartment where Hardcastle's father, Kendrick Hardcastle III, had been found dead from heart disease and cocaine use.
Once a member of Tampa's elite, the father had suffered a long fall from grace after being arrested on charges of possessing crack and procuring an underage prostitute. His death, alone in the apartment, had been the final act in that fall.
Now the son was dead, too.
Wednesday's fatal shooting of Ken Hardcastle IV -- and the quiet end of his father, just six weeks before -- was a stunning double blow to a prominent local family.
Mia Hardcastle, the mother of Ken IV and former wife of Ken III, declined to comment when a reporter knocked on the door of her home. Later, a woman who answered the phone said Mrs. Hardcastle was grieving the loss of her son, no matter what the circumstances of his death.
Unlike the public death of the son, the passing of his father on April 24 received little attention.
While there was no reason to believe the senior Hardcastle's death was from anything but natural causes, Tampa homicide detective Joe Fish was sent to make sure. Recalling that case on Wednesday, Fish said he found Hardcastle, 69, lying sideways across the bed of his one-bedroom loft, wearing cotton navy blue pajamas. The medical examiner's report would conclude that he died from heart problems and "acute cocaine intoxication."
In the bedroom and kitchen, Fish found prescription drugs for various ailments, including anxiety, asthma, insomnia and high blood pressure.
A maid who checked on him from time to time had entered the apartment and heard the water in the shower still running.
His simple apartment near the Hillsborough River was miles away from the stately home where he once lived. His struggles were described at length in A Secret Life, a 1994 series published in the St. Petersburg Times.
Born in 1933 into wealth, Hardcastle was sent to an all-boys military school in Chattanooga, Tenn., and later, Vanderbilt, where he studied engineering.
He married Mia Canariis, the only daughter of a prosperous Tampa family, and went to work for his father-in-law, an industrial pump distributor. The Hardcastles had two sons.
In the early '90s, as he was drawn toward crack cocaine and teenage prostitutes, Hardcastle's life began to spiral downward. Eventually, a judge sentenced him to 31/2 years in a state prison and five years of probation. Mia Hardcastle divorced him, keeping their home on Bayshore Boulevard.
Last April, when the senior Hardcastle's body was discovered, his son was summoned to the apartment as the deceased's next of kin. In an interview that day with detective Fish, the younger Hardcastle steered clear of these embarrassing details from the past. Instead he spoke proudly about his family's accomplishments.
He told detective Fish that he and his brother were both engineers. His mother, he said, was one of the first women to enroll in engineering school at Vanderbilt. His family had given much to the Tampa community.
"I took it from the way he was talking they were wealthy," Fish recalled later. "But you couldn't tell by looking at the apartment."
After his graduation from Plant High in 1979, the younger Hardcastle had his own problems with the law.
Between 1980 and 1991, he was arrested seven times on charges ranging from burglary to reckless driving to resisting arrest with violence. Most of these charges were dismissed, but one stuck.
In November 1990, a Hillsborough sheriff's deputy spotted Hardcastle as he sat in his 1990 Chrysler LeBaron in a Tampa parking lot. According to court records, he at first tried to drive away; later he told the deputy he had been drinking and snorting cocaine all night.
Hardcastle pleaded no contest to felony possession of cocaine and misdemeanor possession of marijuana. He was sentenced three years' probation. His license was suspended for a year.
Within three months he was twice arrested for driving with a suspended license. He paid fines totaling $1,350.
After that, Hardcastle seemed to avoid trouble. In December 1994 he married Cynthia Anne Parisi at Hyde Park Presbyterian, the same church where his father had been an elder.
Heartache pursued him: Court records show he struggled to maintain contact with a son in Tennessee, the result of a previous relationship. He saw the boy four times and sent him birthday and Christmas gifts.
He and his wife moved to Alabama, and in June 2000, they traveled to Tampa for his 20th high school reunion.
"He looked great," recalled Sharon Slater, a classmate who grew up with Hardcastle. "Looked like he was doing well. He looked happy."
Six months later, Cynthia Hardcastle died of complications from lung cancer. She was 41.
Griefstricken, Hardcastle moved back to Tampa and an apartment behind his mother's home on Bayshore.
He worked to put his life back together. Last December, in an attempt to have his civil rights restored, he applied for clemency for his 1990 felony cocaine arrest. In court records, he said he wanted to become a mortgage broker.
In the clemency appeal, his attorney said that Hardcastle had obtained counseling in the months after his felony conviction.
"Mr. Hardcastle does not have any "mental instability,' " the lawyer wrote, "and since the 1990 arrests for DUI and drug possession has not had a drug or alcohol abuse problem."
Then came the crash Wednesday.
Shortly after 3 a.m., Hardcastle drove his white 1995 Ford Taurus across a traffic island at S West Shore Boulevard and Commerce Street.
The Taurus jumped another curb in front of a white clapboard home, plowing through the pink and white impatiens on the lawn. It clipped a pole, tore through a picket fence and came to rest against a tree.
Sheila Moore, who lived four houses away from the crash and was struggling with sleep, gave up on her efforts and went outside, her 13-year-old son trailing behind.
Neighbors called 911; later, they would say that Hardcastle had repeatedly tried to start the wrecked Taurus. Finally he climbed out of the car.
He was wearing a white button-down shirt and dress slacks, Moore recalled, and did not appear to be hurt, although he stumbled as he walked.
Within minutes, Tampa police Officer Michael Leavy, 29, arrived. Leavy, a five-year veteran, had no reason to believe this was anything other than a routine traffic accident.
Carrying a flashlight, the officer walked up to the Taurus just as Hardcastle leaned back into the car.
"He made a slow turn, and I saw a gun in his hand," Moore said. "It looked like a cannon.
"I started screaming, "He's got a gun!' I grabbed my son and ducked behind a tree."
The officer ordered Hardcastle to drop his gun. Hardcastle did not let go of the silver-plated .357, and Leavy fired five shots. Three of them hit Hardcastle, striking the left side of his face, the center of his chest and the upper part of his right leg.
He dropped to the ground, sprawled on his back, his head resting against part of the broken picket fence.
The gun was still in his right hand, Moore said. Not sure of his condition, Leavy and another officer kept screaming at him to drop the gun, she said.
Hardcastle's hand opened, and the gun fell. Minutes later, he was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.
Later that day, detective Fish reflected on the fact that he had been present first at the death of the father and then of the son.
"It's a strange series of coincidences," he said.
The detective thought back to that day in April when he'd met the younger Hardcastle. The man had seemed calm, personable, in control, not someone who would refuse to drop a gun before a police officer.
What had changed?
"You never know," said Fish. "What made him do that, we'll probably never know."
-- Times researchers John Martin, Cathy Wos and Kitty Bennett contributed to this report. Amy Herdy can be reached at (813) 226-3386 or email@example.com.
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