On a different path
TyRon Lewis II is a lot like his dad, but he won't lose his life to the streets.
By MELANIE AVE, Times Staff Writer
Published October 24, 2006
[Times photo: Willie J. Allen Jr.]
DAYTONA BEACH - Here, he is just TyRon Lewis II, a little boy with a simple name.
But 160 miles to the west in St. Petersburg, he is a little boy with a name that triggers vivid and painful memories.
He was a toddler 10 years ago today when a white police officer in St. Petersburg shot his father, sparking two nights of rioting.
To some, TyRon Lewis was a martyr, a tragic symbol of a white assault on the black community.
To others, he was a thug who tried to run over a cop.
But to an 11-year-old boy growing up a few blocks from the Daytona International Speedway, TyRon Lewis is the father whose violent death runs like a fault line through his life.
TyRon Lewis II will be in St. Petersburg today, marking the anniversary of his father's death at an Uhuru-sponsored event at the All People's Tyron Lewis Gym and Wellness Center.
He was born Aaron White on May 14, 1995, the son of two unmarried 16-year-olds, TyRon Lewis and LaToya White, now LaToya Simmons. His maternal grandmother named him.
Lewis, who had string of arrests beginning at age 9, was in a juvenile detention center when his son was born.
When he got out, he tried to meet his 1-year-old son.
"He was so, so happy," said his mother, Pamela Lewis Rose, 52, who was living in Daytona Beach then. "He come back saying, 'Mama I'm going to buy the baby pants. I'm going to get me a job.' "
Lewis attempted to see the boy several times, including a month before he died, but Simmons' mother refused.
"She told him he didn't have a son and don't come back to her house," Simmons, 27, recalled her mother telling Lewis. "That was the last time I ever spoke to him."
Before Lewis left Daytona Beach for the last time, he talked to his mother. The joy of fatherhood had soured.
"His whole attitude had changed," his mother said. "He didn't care so, blah, blah, blah."
He told his mother he was returning to St. Petersburg, where he was wanted on arrest warrants.
"I told him Ron, I said, if you leave I'm not going to be responsible," she recalled telling her youngest child of four. "I said, 'If you go, you're either going to be in jail or you going to die.'
"He said, 'I don't care, Mama. I'm going.' "
New name, heritage
Little Aaron was just learning to walk when his mother, still in Daytona Beach, heard about the shooting and watched the rioting in St. Petersburg on television the evening of Oct. 24, 1996.
"I was in disbelief," Simmons said. "I just turned off the TV."
Lewis and a friend were driving the LeMans through the intersection of 16th Street and 18th Avenue S when St. Petersburg officers James Knight and Sandra Minor stopped the car for speeding.
Knight, standing in front of the car, shot Lewis three times after the teen refused to get out of the car and the vehicle lurched forward.
A grand jury concluded the shooting was justified even as the Police Department determined Knight broke some rules.
Simmons said she felt like she was in another world.
Her son was fatherless.
But she could at least give him a heritage. She changed his name from Aaron to the name she originally wanted, TyRon Lewis II.
Like father, like son
Today TyRon lives in a spare two-bedroom, cement-block house in Daytona Beach with his mother, a nursing assistant, and new stepfather, Leon Simmons, 28, a construction worker with a robbery conviction and a recent arrest for cocaine and marijuana possession.
His 7-month-old half sister, Amari, makes him giggle with her burps. He admits he's a little jealous of her.
He's a fifth-grader at Palm Terrace Elementary School, where he said he makes good grades but struggles with math. He likes science and social studies.
"Growing up for him is pretty much okay because he has another father figure," his mother said. "I know deep down he probably still misses his father because he's never seen him."
He goes by Ty or TyRon. But a few family members often slip and call him by his birth name.
He was only 3 when a cousin told him about his father and how he died.
"I didn't think it was the right time for him to find out but I couldn't keep it a secret anymore," his mother said. "He was upset."
In a quiet voice, he said it still upsets him to think about his father. If anyone speaks ill of his dad, he gets mad.
"It was wrong what they did," he said. "I don't know why they killed him."
His mother, like many of Lewis' family members, believes the police officer should have been punished "instead of walking away free," Simmons said. "That wasn't fair."
To the Lewis family, the boy remains their living, breathing connection to the deceased teenager.
"He's skinny like him," said his aunt, DeAnne Lewis Dinkins, 33, who lives in Charlotte, N.C. "Very, very energetic."
The boy is also quiet and sometimes temperamental, just like his father, said Rose, his grandmother.
"He gets angry and bursts out with his mouth," said Rose, who lives St. Petersburg. "It's like I'm seeing TyRon all over again."
Simmons thinks his heart-shaped face resembles his paternal grandfather, Lewis' dad, who was absent from his son's life.
The boy likes NASCAR, though he's never seen a race in person. He owns 43 miniature motorcycles and loves pizza.
In many ways, his upbringing is more stable than his father's even though Simmons said she struggles financially. He has two parents in the home and attends school regularly.
Lewis had run away so many times by the age of 11 he was placed in foster care. His son likes to stay home.
Simmons does not see her son slipping into a life on the streets.
He thinks of the future, something missing by most accounts from the life of his father.
He wants to be a pilot. He sometimes thinks being a firefighter would be fun or perhaps an astronaut or a train conductor.
His mother is firm on one thing: He has to make good grades and go to college.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker helped raise money for a four-year college scholarship for Lewis' son after the family lost a wrongful death lawsuit against the city.
"He's a very smart and bright kid," Simmons said. "He's got so many dreams ..."
Melanie Ave can be reached at 727 893-8813 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Last modified October 24, 2006, 09:13:08]
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