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    A recurring nightmare

    Tom Parmentier is haunted by the similar circumstances that stole his stepson and stepfather from him 20 years apart.

    [Times photo: Chris Zuppa]
    Tina and Tom Parmentier gaze out from the room of their son, Matthew "Matty" Brassill, who was dragged to death last month.

    By BRADY DENNIS, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published November 10, 2002


    PINELLAS PARK -- Tom Parmentier has waited 20 years to cry. He keeps waiting, even though he has more to cry about than ever.

    In 1982, Parmentier scattered the ashes of the man he called his father. Last month, he buried the teenager he called his son.

    Both were killed in the Florida darkness, two decades apart. Both were stolen from him in an eerily similar way: dragged 60 feet to their deaths by drivers who, thus far, have not been caught.

    Parmentier, 33, insists he can't cry until he finds the answers that seem to have vanished somewhere over the bay, undiscovered.

    Until then, he'll keep praying, even as his prayers grow longer.

    "I pray every night, and I always tell Jesus Christ to tell my dad I miss him and love him and I wish he was still here," Parmentier said. "But now I have to do that for my son, too, and that hurts."

    * * *

    May 23, 1982. Parmentier remembers it clearly. He remembers being 13, prostrate in a room at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, recovering from a kidney operation.

    He remembers not wanting to sleep there alone. So his mother and stepfather, Jacqueline and Gerald Burlison, stayed by his bedside.

    His biological father had been a drinker, but Burlison had stepped in and become a strong father figure.

    "He taught us how to go to school, how to raise a family," Parmentier said. "He was a big guy, but he showed kindness and love."

    Some time after midnight, Burlison left the hospital to get some fresh air, maybe a soft drink. He hopped on the bike he had ridden from home.

    He was pedaling east on Ninth Avenue N about 3 a.m. when a driver made a wide turn in the 700 block and hit him and dragged him roughly 60 feet.

    Burlison suffered massive head injuries. He died just after 4:40 a.m. in the emergency room at Bayfront Medical Center.

    His death left behind a widow and four children. It left Parmentier blaming himself that his father was out on the streets that night. It left more questions than answers.

    White man. Dark hair. Driving alone. A 1973 or 1974 Buick. At least one broken headlight.

    And that was all.

    "There were never any answers," Parmentier said. "We still don't know to this day."

    The 13-year-old didn't discover that his stepfather had died until the next morning. He learned it while watching the news.

    Because of his kidney surgery, he missed the funeral. He lay there in the sterile room, feeling guilty and lost.

    * * *

    Oct. 19, 2002. The son was now the father.

    In 1995, Parmentier became stepfather to Matthew "Matty" Brassill, whose biological father lives in New Jersey and has been in and out of jail.

    Parmentier never missed his son's baseball or football games. He and his wife, Tina, traveled across Florida, and even Georgia, to watch the teenager fulfill his passion for sports.

    They watched him throw his 140-pound frame against 250-pound linemen with reckless abandon. They watched him score the winning run to bring a Senior Little League World Series title to Pinellas Park in 2000.

    They smiled when he scribbled "#2," his jersey number, beside his signature and told them that the autograph would be worth money one day. They smiled when he scrubbed his shoes with Clorox, when he told them how sexy he was.

    Father and son often spent Saturdays trimming trees for extra cash. They laughed together. They admired each other.

    "I had a lot of respect for him," Parmentier said. "I respected him more than some adults I know."

    On Friday, Oct. 18, Brassill went to Ybor City with several friends. He had turned 18 weeks before and could now get into clubs.

    He had been hired for his first job, at Best Buy. He had a serious girlfriend who had told him the night before that she was pregnant.

    As a fifth-year senior at Pinellas Park High School, he couldn't play football this season, but he still had his last name tattooed across the top of his back, as if on a jersey.

    Police said Brassill and his friends, who had been drinking at a local club, got into a scuffle with another group of men about 3 a.m. along Fifth Avenue.

    They said Brassill swung at someone inside the other group's car. Someone inside the car grabbed his arm, and the car sped off and dragged Brassill about 60 feet.

    He fell to the pavement, where he died from massive head injuries.

    One friend called Mrs. Parmentier to deliver a mother's worst nightmare. Another held Brassill in his arms. His blood stained the pavement as the car sped away.

    Three men. Maybe four. Mercedes-Benz. Maybe gold, maybe silver.

    And that was all.

    A Tampa police spokeswoman said that detectives continue their investigation into the case but that no arrests have been made.

    The uncertainly has left Parmentier to ask questions, to wrestle demons, all over again.

    "Right now, it's a puzzle for me and my wife," he said. "He was a good kid. There are so many answers we're trying to figure out.

    "We want to know what his last words were. Just to find out the truth. That's all we want."

    * * *

    For Parmentier, each day has become a carbon copy of the last.

    Before work, he drives his white Chevrolet Silverado pickup to Memorial Park on 54th Avenue N to check his son's grave, to tidy up, to make it look nice.

    He makes sure the Pinellas Park High School pompoms are in place, as well as the football face mask and mouthpiece friends have left. He takes care not to disturb the handwritten letter that begins: "Dear Matty, How are you enjoying heaven?"

    He spends his day working for the Pinellas Park Public Works Department, then detours by the graveyard once more on the way home, just to check.

    He passes the evening with his wife, 35, in their modest home on 97th Ave N.

    They spend time with Matty's three sisters, renting a new movie from Blockbuster almost every night.

    The television sits next to the open door to Matty's room, where Dallas Cowboys gear and family pictures hang on the wall, football jerseys fill the closet, and baseball trophies clutter the shelves.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers Keyshawn Johnson and John Lynch have sent autographs recently. The teenager's favorite player, Atlanta Falcon Michael Vick, also sent an autographed football. It sits on the bed.

    As midnight nears, Parmentier heads to bed, bows his head and asks forgiveness. He tells God to let two angels know that he misses them.

    He closes his eyes, sees their faces. He feels 13 again, then 33, but always wondering. He lies there hoping that one day the answers -- and the tears -- will come.

    -- Times researchers Cathy Wos and John Martin contributed to this report. Brady Dennis can be reached at (813) 226-3386.

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