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Hostage: 'We were all going to die'

Held at gunpoint by a deranged man, Tampa hostages could only watch and wait.

By ABBIE VANSICKLE
Published April 14, 2007


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photo
[Times photo: Daniel Wallace]
William "Chris" Perez, 24, talks to news crews about being held as a hostage in a gun range for about 10 hours before the gunman took his own life. His friend, Michal Ferguson, 17, right, came to Perez's home Friday morning after hearing what happened.

photo
[Times photo: Thomas M. Goethe]
The owner of the Shooting Sports gun range, Margaret C. Flesche, left, and her son Mark Pellegrin, right, stand in the doorway of the range Friday morning.


TAMPA -- Two friends headed for the gun range at the back of Shooting Sports Inc., put on ear protectors, strung up their targets and started firing.

Insulated by two sets of doors, their own gunfire and ear protection, they didn't know that everyone else in the building had been taken hostage.

They didn't know that Jeffrey Dudney, 43, deranged, suicidal and out on bail on attempted murder charges, came there to steal a gun. A range employee saw him and pushed an alarm.

This pushed Dudney over the edge. He started taking hostages.

Oblivious to all this, Timothy Bechard, 22, and his friend, Chris Perez, 24, kept shooting in the back gun range.

Just before 5 p.m., Bechard's cell phone rang. A friend who had been planning to meet them was on the line.

"They've got cops surrounding the front door," his friend said.

The two men put down their weapons. They didn't want deputies to see their guns and shoot them.

They stepped through the doors that separate the range from the showroom, ready to turn in their ear and eye protection.

Facing them was a muscular man in jeans, bare from the waist up, triceps bulging. At 6 feet 3, he towered over them.

Dudney waved a gun.

"Get your hands up," he said. "Come with me if you want to live."

They followed, unarmed, into the range's office, a small room furnished with a desk, a computer, a chair and shelves of gun books and granola bars. Two other men lay face down on the floor. A woman sat in the chair.

"They actually looked calm, believe it or not," Bechard said. "I was shaking. ... I didn't think I was going to make it out of there."

From the office window, Bechard and Perez saw patrol cars and deputies.

Dudney took the hostages' cell phones. He didn't tie them up. He told them to lay down. He threatened to shoot the woman in the chair, 64-year-old range employee Margaret C. Flesche.

"I thought he was going to take her down," Bechard said. "He had the gun on her for a while."

Dudney got on the phone with sheriff's dispatchers at the agency's Ybor City headquarters. By about 5:30 p.m., a hostage negotiator was on the line.

Dudney wanted all patrol cars to move away, said Chief Deputy Jose Docobo. He also wanted a car for himself, with open roads before him to make a getaway.

"He never gave a real specific reason for doing this," said Sgt. Dorothy Flair, a member of the Crisis Negotiation Team. "Really, it all came down to him having some problems in his life that he was trying to deal with."

Facing prison time

His family -- his wife, mother and a brother -- came out to the scene, called there by law enforcement.

His wife, Brenda Vickers-Dudney, later told his attorney that Dudney had been "saying some crazy stuff" that afternoon.

When she woke from a nap, he was gone.

From inside the office, Dudney called his mom.

"He was like, 'Mom, are you watching the news? I'm on it,'" Bechard said.

Dudney called his brother and cussed at him, Perez said.

"He was saying he was facing life in prison for attempted murder," he said.

Earlier this week, Dudney's attorney, Barry Taracks, had delivered grim news: If prosecutors proved their case against Dudney, he faced a minimum of 20 years in prison for firing a gun.

Pills via robot

About 10:30 p.m., Dudney demanded Xanax.

"He said he was addicted to them, and it helped his nerves," Perez said.

Dudney wanted 40 or 50 pills. One of the other hostages, John Murray, 33, spoke up.

Murray had Xanax in his car.

Dudney told deputies, who sent in the pills by robot. In exchange, Murray went free, unharmed. But the robot brought only four or five pills, far fewer than Dudney wanted, Perez said.

Dudney exploded in rage. Sweat poured from his bare chest.

Lying on his belly on the floor, Perez felt powerless.

"I thought we were all going to die because the police didn't give him what he wanted," he said.

Negotiators didn't give Dudney more of the pills until later, Flair said. She declined to discuss the reason.

Dudney turned to the hostages and asked them how best to shoot himself.

Perez said one hostage, Mark G. Little, told him to put the barrel of the .45-caliber pistol against the side of the head and squeeze.

Day turned into night; night into early morning.

Dudney talked, on and on. He used a hostage's cell phone to call relatives, using nasty language.

He let the men on the floor sit up, forced them to use jugs for toilets.

At 1:30 a.m., negotiators sent in more pills, about 50, via robot, Perez said. The robot rolled up to the doors and a side door inside opened. Four hostages came out into the vestibule.

Dudney ordered two hostages to lay down on the floor, while another hostage, a man, approached the front door.

The hostage opened the door and retrieved the box carrying the medication. Shielding himself with another hostage, Dudney looked at the pills. Then he ordered everyone back inside.

He agreed to release another hostage. Bechard walked out.

Inside the office, Dudney gulped pills by the handful, 10 at a time, Perez said. Within half an hour, he seemed dazed.

Flair said he stopped talking with negotiators.

About 3 a.m., with the remaining hostages looking on, he put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger.

"He said he wanted to die on his own terms, not the police terms," Perez said.

He fell over dead, just 6 or 8 feet from the three remaining captives, Perez said.

Perez said he stood up and started to walk out. The others told him to wait, not to walk through the blood and brain matter. He kept walking.

The trio -- Perez, Little and Flesche -- stepped outside at last, unharmed. Investigators took them to the Sheriff's Office. Then, they went free.

Perez went to the home off Waters Avenue he shares with his mother and grandmother. He went right to sleep.

Staff writers Colleen Jenkins, Ben Montgomery and Justin George and news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Abbie VanSickle can be reached at 226-3373 or vansickle@sptimes.com.

[Last modified April 14, 2007, 00:02:15]


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