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Two violent deaths, at 80 mph

Deputies chased them because their car fit the description of a vehicle being used to deal drugs.

Published July 29, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - The two young men who made the fatal decision to speed away from deputies on Thursday knew all about the grim toll of life on the street.

Kenneth Walker composed rap songs to honor two good friends, both shot and killed in the past year and a half. Maurice Jenkins wrote a song called Times to describe his grief after his 16-year-old cousin was slain five years ago.

"I never thought I'd be scarred with this faith I have in God," Jenkins rapped.

Despite their history, they didn't stop when a sheriff's deputy signalled for their Chevrolet Cobalt to pull over around 11 p.m. Thursday. A pair of deputies pursued the Cobalt west on 54th Avenue N, but abandoned the chase after less than a minute, the Sheriff's Office said.

The Cobalt kept accelerating, swerved off the road after passing 49th Street, ran over a hedge and crashed into the Memorial Park Cemetery. The car flipped over several times, hurling the two men out of their seats.

Walker, 21, and Jenkins, 25, were killed.

They have become part of the growing tally of young black men in St. Petersburg who have met violent deaths in recent years. Like the others, they could have their faces embroidered on T-shirts and their names mourned in rap songs.

Family members were stunned and grieving Friday afternoon. They criticized the Sheriff's Office for chasing the car.

"I don't understand how a traffic stop could have ended like this," said Shakeyla Jenkins, 23, Maurice's sister. "They've got two different families grieving."

The pursuit began after a resident called to complain about a black Chevrolet that was being used in drug deals. Deputy Braddon Ferguson saw a Chevrolet Cobalt driving recklessly around 62nd Avenue N and 28th Street.

Deputy John Bradshaw joined the pursuit on 54th Avenue to 45th Street, at which point a supervisor told them to abandon the chase, the Sheriff's Office said. The deputies slowed down, but the Cobalt sped up past 80 mph as it crossed 49th Street, where the road dips slightly. The car swerved and crashed into the cemetery. Neither man was wearing a seat belt.

After searching the wreckage, the Sheriff's Office found a gram of crack cocaine and drug paraphernalia on Walker.

The Sheriff's Office said deputies appear to have followed the general guidelines for pursuit operations. The Sheriff's Office gives deputies leeway to pursue aggressive drivers or criminal suspects. They terminate pursuits for several reasons, such as when a pursuit could cause a greater danger to the public than a suspect remaining at large.

Sheriff's officials will review the incident, as they do all pursuits.

"It appears that the pursuit was within our policy," said Sgt. Jim Bordner, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Office.

Both Walker and Jenkins were kids in many ways. They still lived with family, had trouble finding work and hung out with old neighborhood friends. But they both also ran into trouble and dealt with grief at an early age.

Family members said Jenkins never fully recovered after his cousin Jonathan "J-Fade" Davis was killed.

Dominique Waller, 19, Walker's cousin, said he was "traumatized for life" when his best friend, 20-year-old Antonio "Pac-Man" Roberts, was gunned down at the Pinellas Point Apartments last May. Another close friend, 18 year-old Forbes "P-Nut" Swisher, was shot and killed this year.

All three shootings prompted outcries in the black community to end black-on-black violence. But the deaths continue.

Both Walker and Jenkins had suspended drivers' licenses and criminal records that included arrests on drug-related charges. Family members say they were trying to straighten up.

"After (Walker) lost his best friend, he said he wanted to get a job, find someone to settle down with, and live an average life," Waller said.

Family members of both men most remember the music the two made. As they gathered to talk and mourn Friday, some began humming tunes from the rap songs the two composed. Jenkins' sisters took turns trying to remember the lines of the tune he wrote about his murdered cousin.

And Waller, Walker's cousin, remembered the lines of the song he composed to honor his slain friend Roberts:

"I really miss my homey and I can't believe he's gone. Lord if you hear my prayer would you give us the strength to push on."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at (727) 893-8472.

[Last modified July 31, 2006, 05:39:03]

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