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Tempo of violence kept picking up

Published April 14, 2007


TAMPA - A little more than a year before he took five hostages at an indoor shooting range, Jeffrey Lane Dudney holed up in a hotel room with his .40-caliber pistol and threatened to shoot himself and anyone who interfered.

Dudney, 43, didn't act on that threat. But it was the first in a series of violent outbursts by the drywall salesman, who was accused during the next 15 months of cutting his wife's throat with a knife, driving drunk and shooting at strangers.

At one point, his wife warned authorities that he had vowed never to be taken into police custody again.

Dudney, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound bodybuilder, made good on his promise early Friday, taking his life with a single gunshot to the head. He told hostages he was addicted to prescription drugs.

He left behind a crushed family and a paper record of his mid-life meltdown.

The only hint of trouble before his recent spate of arrests came in 1996, when Dudney declared personal bankruptcy. The matter was resolved in three months, according to court records.

Trent Calta met Dudney and his wife, Brenda Vickers-Dudney, when the two joined his family's gym in the late 1990s.

Vickers-Dudney, a professional bodybuilder, wanted to take up boxing. Calta became one of the couple's trainers.

Dudney, also a bodybuilder, traveled with his wife when she turned pro. She named herself "The Real Deal, Too" after Evander Holyfield and won a world championship before retiring, Calta said.

"After a fight I put my pink skirt and my high heels on, I do my hair and go out with my husband," she said in a 2002 St. Petersburg Times story about her boxing career. "I'm proud to be a woman and I love my man ... and he's da man."

Their trainer thought of Dudney as "just a regular nice guy" - until a call from his friend at 3 a.m. in January 2006.

Dudney, at the Marriott Courtyard on Westshore Boulevard, told Calta he was checking out.

"You're checking out of the hotel?" Calta asked.

"No, I'm checking out."

Calta called Dudney's wife. She called police. They took Dudney to St. Joseph's Hospital under the state's Baker Act, which allows people to be held involuntarily for mental health evaluation. Dudney blamed marital and money problems.

A month later, Dudney called a colleague at National Gypsum Co. in Port Tampa, his employer of 20 years. Out on sick leave, he said he had been drinking alcohol and taking medicine. Again, he said he was "checking out."

Colleagues worried that Dudney might hurt someone at the plant. But when police found him at home later that day, Dudney told them his co-workers had blown things out of proportion.

"Jeffrey assured us that he was fine, that he had gone through a 'rough time,' but that he was working things out with his wife," the Tampa Police Department report states.

In August, Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies were called to his Town 'N Country apartment. According to their report, Dudney held a knife to his wife's throat during an argument and said, "I will kill you." Vickers-Dudney broke free and dialed 911.

She had a small cut on her throat but did not need medical attention, the report stated. Dudney was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, but the charges were later dropped.

On April 5, deputies arrested Dudney on three counts of attempted first-degree murder after he was accused of firing shots at a motorist.

Marc Webb, 34, said his truck was struck from behind by the driver of a 1996 Dodge Dakota on S Dale Mabry Highway. He pursued the man who hit him to get a license plate number.

Webb caught up with the driver, who climbed out of his truck and pulled out a gun.

"He was so calm," Webb said. "When I looked down the barrel of the gun into his eyes, the gun never moved. He never looked around. He didn't yell, he didn't scream. He didn't even take a deep breath."

Webb, accompanied by his wife and her friend, tried to drive away, but when he turned his truck around, a bullet shattered the back window and whizzed by Webb's headrest.

Webb said he's furious that Judge Ronald Ficarrotta allowed Dudney to be released on $150,500 bail. Dudney was eligible for bail because the crime was not a capital offense. Family members pooled money to get him out, his attorney said.

"This guy was crazy," Webb said. "With his history, there's no reason why he should have been let out. It's just lucky that no one got hurt."

National Gypsum fired Dudney after the latest arrest. The human resources manager declined to comment on his job performance or responsibilities.

Dudney's wife and 22-year-old stepdaughter could not be reached Friday for comment.

His mother sounded distraught when she answered her phone Friday. Shirley Dudney, 68, said she was rushing out the door to make arrangements for her son and couldn't talk.

"He was a very loving person," she said. "We're just in heartache right now. It's terrible. We're just trying to deal with this tragedy."

Times researcher John Martin and staff writers Abbie VanSickle and Justin George contributed to this report.

Time line

A rapid descent

Jeffrey Dudney's life spiraled quickly out of control:

Sept. 2005: DUI arrest.

Jan. 2006: Threatened suicide. Held under the Baker Act.

Feb. 2006: Reported missing after suicide threat. Not hospitalized.

Aug. 2006: Wounds wife with knife, charged with aggravated assault. Charges are dismissed.

Nov. 2006: DUI arrest.

April 2007: Charged with three counts of attempted first-degree murder. Later kills himself.

[Last modified April 14, 2007, 01:25:23]

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