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Tragic choices ended teens' lives

[Times photos:Fred Victorin]
Word of Life church member Tonya Gillian fans Peggy Burge, center, Rashad's mother, and his grandmother Haggie Wilson.

Their parents' warnings were not heeded by the teens, who raced from authorities and to their deaths.

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 9, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG -- Candice Jennerich stretched out across her bed, a sheet of white notebook paper hanging on the wall above her head.

"God, protect my hommiez," Candice had written in pencil and blue ink. She listed the names of eight friends, including Patrina Lewis. Candice and Patrina, both 15, spent Sunday night in Candice's bedroom giggling about boys, rapping and calling friends.

A new friend called after midnight. Candice met him hours earlier in the parking lot of her apartment complex on 54th Avenue S.

"Come get us," Candice told him. The phone rang again before 2 a.m. Monday. Rashad Golden and Dortez Bizzell, both 14, were waiting outside in a stolen red Dodge Neon.

"I'll be right back," Candice called out to her mother as the girls left the apartment.

Patrina eventually returned to her house. Candice, Rashad and Dortez never made it home.

The three teens were killed just after 5 a.m. when the red Neon, speeding away from a police car, hit a tree along 54th Avenue S at an estimated 80 mph.

Police say Rashad or Dortez stole the Neon from a home southeast of Lake Maggiore at 8:55 p.m. Sunday. In the next eight hours, several residents near or along 54th Avenue S reported teens breaking into cars and ducking into a waiting red car.

Car thefts in St. Petersburg are the highest in a decade, and most of those arrested are younger than 18, police say."A lot of it is just joy riding,"said Maj. Reggie Oliver, who oversees property crimes. "The popularity of being seen in a stolen vehicle."

* * *

Dortez Bizzell had been warned by his parents to stay away from stolen cars that often cruised through the parking lot of his apartment complex.

"Don't let a stolen car be the cause of your death," Anissa Bizzell told Dortez last month as they sat at the kitchen table in their apartment on 15th Street S.

"Momma, I'm not stupid," he replied.
At the memorial service last week, Katrina DeJounett wears a T-shirt wih the names of the teens who died.
Brian Flowers, who lives in a nearby apartment, chastised his son last year after he learned Dortez had been in a stolen car. "I got on him so hard his mother thought it was too hard," Flowers said. "He was trying to be somebody he wasn't."

Dortez, a popular freshman at Northeast High School, lived with his mother, stepfather and three younger brothers.

The teenager was known for telling jokes and playfully exchanging insults with friends. He liked to lift weights he kept in his bedroom. He listened to music, lately the rapper 50 Cent. He was skilled at flirting with girls and played video games such as Blitz. A gifted football player, he once played for the St. Petersburg 'Lil Devils.

"He was a good kid, mischievous at times, but all teenagers are, especially boys," said Michelle Johnson, Dortez's great-aunt. "My niece (Anissa Bizzell) does a darn good job. She's hard on them but fair. (Dortez) made very bad choices."

About 5 p.m. Sunday, Dortez told his mother he was going to hang around outside the apartment as he often did, talking with friends or circling the parking lot on a bicycle. Friends recalled seeing him there as late as 7 p.m. before he left on foot. Throughout the evening, he returned periodically in a red Neon.

Anissa Bizzell, who works in room service at a beach resort and spa, yelled for Dortez and his brothers to come inside at 9 p.m.

Dortez never showed up.

* * *

Rashad Golden, not the mushy type, never hugged his grandmother the way he did that last time in February.

"He acted real warm and full of love," Haggie Wilson recalled of the grandchild who didn't like having his picture taken. "There was just something about it. It sent chills through my body."

Rashad told his grandmother he loved her before leaving her 45th Street S home. The moment reminded Wilson of the last time she saw Rashad's brother, Aaron, before he was killed in 1998 in a triple homicide in St. Petersburg. Aaron, 15, had asked her to wash some underclothes for him before he left. The underclothes, washed and folded, remain in her garage.

Rashad, who had three other brothers and two sisters, got into trouble a couple of times after his brother's death. A parent of a student with learning disabilities at Melrose Elementary School complained to police that Rashad was threatening her son and had beaten him, according to a police report.

Another police report said Rashad was sent to another school after a girl at Azalea Middle School complained to police he touched her inappropriately in a hallway. Police said they had planned to question Rashad about several auto thefts.

Rashad, an eighth-grader, last attended North Ward Secondary, a St. Petersburg school for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders expelled from their regular schools for serious discipline problems.

"His teachers said they saw a complete turnaround in the last month," said Peggy Burge, Rashad's mother.

Once a quarterback for the Childs Park Rattlers, Rashad wanted to play football in high school. One to sometimes joke and play around, he had lots of friends. They included Dortez, whom he met at Meadowlawn Middle School.

Burge, who works as a telemarketer, and Rashad ran errands Sunday. She dropped him at her sister's house at Seventh Street S and 16th Avenue about 4 p.m.

At 8 p.m., she went back for him, but he wasn't there. She went back at 9 and at 10. No Rashad.

"I drove until 4 a.m. looking for him because it was unusual," Burge said. "He wasn't a problem child. I did everything I could to put my son in the right direction."

* * *

Candice didn't back down to bus stop bullies who called her names because she was biracial.

"She wasn't afraid of anything," said her father, Darryl Bohannon, 41, who is black. "That's why some of the wrong people liked her."

She was born in Germany. Her father, a tank crewman in the U.S. Army, was stationed there and met Ute Jennerich, Candice's mother. When Candice was 6, they moved to St. Petersburg.

At Maximo Elementary, Candice won a poster contest about water conservation. The certificate, framed and signed by former Mayor David Fischer, hangs on Candice's bedroom wall.

"That was one of the proudest moments for me," said her father, a production supervisor at a St. Petersburg manufacturing plant. "She started out good."

At Azalea Middle School, police responded to several scuffles involving Candice.

Candice's parents did not agree on discipline, and the couple separated before she entered Northeast High School. She lived with her mother but still saw her father. Two days before the accident, he bought her black and white Converse All Stars.

"She wasn't a bad girl," said Lilja Davis, 34, whose 15-year-old daughter was Candice's friend. "She had no supervision."

On the school bus to Northeast High, Candice sang to Aaliyah, a rhythm and blues singer who died in an airplane crash. Candice owned a karaoke machine and dreamed of signing with a record label.

At the time of her death, Candice was on a 10-day school suspension for throwing a pencil at someone in class. The night before she died, her mother saw her crying. Candice was at a teen dance last month at the Campbell Park Recreation Center when a teenager was shot and killed in the parking lot.

"I'm going to die soon," Candice told her mother.

"The only way you're going to die," her mother replied, "is if you keep hanging around people who do bad stuff."

* * *

Several different boys rode in the red Neon after it was stolen.

"These kids get the vehicles, and they take turns driving them," said St. Petersburg police Detective Jeff Manning.

Rashad and Dortez picked up Candice and Patrina about 1:40 a.m. Monday.

"We got in the car, and we drove off," said Patrina, who had a science class with Candice.

The four rode around for less than an hour. Dortez drove, with Rashad beside him. The girls were in the back. Candice fiddled with the radio, but it didn't work. At some point Rashad got behind the wheel, and they sped on the wet streets of Coquina Key. They stopped at the 7-Eleven on Elkcam Boulevard SE and bought chili dogs and doughnuts. They stopped at a McDonald's on Fourth Street S for french fries.

Patrina said she looked at the ignition at one point and didn't see any keys.

"I was like, 'This car's stolen,' and I told them to take me home," Patrina said. "The last thing I said to them was, 'Don't drive crazy.' "

In the hours after the Neon disappeared, a car matching its description was seen leaving several attempted car thefts at apartment parking lots.

At 4:53 a.m. Monday, a resident at Queensmark Apartments on 54th Avenue S called police and said teens in a red Neon were driving around the complex, checking cars.

Officer Marlin Heyward arrived first, but it was Officer Troy Harper who saw the Neon in the parking lot. Harper pointed his spotlight on it, but the car sped away. Heyward partially blocked the apartment entrance with his cruiser.

Dortez drove up and made brief eye contact with Heyward, the officer's report says. Then he drove around the police car and onto 54th Avenue S.

Heyward turned on his emergency lights and followed at 60 mph to 65 mph. He turned off those lights and slowed five or six blocks from the crash, police say. Dortez accelerated, losing control of the Neon after it hit a dip at 54th Avenue S and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street.

The car crashed into a tree at 812 54th Ave. S. The engine shot out of the car and landed on the grass.

Hundreds of friends, relatives and strangers gathered at services last week for the teens. At Candice's wake, girls fell to their knees in tears. The body in the purple coffin was a mannequin, they cried, not Candice.

"When you're young, you think you're invincible," Tamika Gibbs, 18, said between sobs outside a funeral home. "Like you have an invisible shield in front of you. All I want to do is go in there and shake her and say, 'Wake up, Candice.' "

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