Ybor nightclub fight ends with shooting

Published May 20, 2007

TAMPA - A fight that started inside the Empire Nightclub spilled out onto Ybor City streets early Sunday morning, ending with one man shot and another in custody.

Police say Onassis George, 28, shot Howard A. Williams in the chest at 2:42 a.m. Sunday, about a block away from the club, where they had been thrown out for fighting about 15 minutes earlier.

Williams, 28, remains in critical condition at Tampa General Hospital. George is being held without bond at the Orient Road Jail on charges of attempted first-degree murder and possession of a firearm.

Ybor City residents said Sunday's shooting was just the latest in a string of violence surrounding Empire Nightclub at 1902 E. Seventh Ave.

"Enough is enough. We're getting fed up with what's going on," said Tony LaColla, president of the Historic Ybor Neighborhood Civic Association. "It's hurting business. It's going against our plan to bring more people to Ybor."

In 2002, two of the club's bouncers were shot after telling a man to take off his knit cap. One died. Gunman Allington Dottin got two life sentences.

Last fall, a Temple Terrace man was stabbed to death in a parking lot outside the club, also following an argument.

LaColla and his neighbors are circling a petition asking the city to address violations committed by Empire and its neighbor Club Fuel, which shares a block with Empire. The petition says the crime rate is higher surrounding the clubs, that their buildings are in disrepair and that they produce excessive noise.

Neighbors have met with Mayor Pam Iorio to address nightclub violence, and they plan on bringing their petition to city council. LaColla says the clubs should either be shut down or lose their liquor licenses.

"My view is that Club Fuel, Club Empire are not policing the clientele there," LaColla said. "They don't have proper security."

Club Empire owner Ken Grossman objects. He says that anyone who walks into his club is padded down for weapons.

Sunday morning, the gunman must have gotten his gun after leaving the nightclub, Grossman said, because he would not have been allowed in with one.

Police say Wililams and his friends, who were also kicked out of the club, were walking back to their vehicle in the 1900 block of Sixth Avenue when George approached them with a gun.

"I can't stop people from fighting," Grossman said. "That happens every day. It happens in Hyde Park. It happens at football stadiums. I can't stop the whole world from fighting."

Grossman said he believes neighbors' safety concerns stem from a "black/white" mentality. When his club played techno music from 1995 to 2004 -- which attracted more white patrons -- he never got complaints. The complaints started when the club started attracting a hip-hop crowd.

"It's unfair and ridiculous," he said.

Tampa Police Lt. Diane Hobley-Burney couldn't comment Sunday on Empire, since the shooting happened between individuals, outside the club. But she did that violent crimes in Ybor City, like murders and robberies, are down 15 percent.

This weekend was just a bad one in Ybor.

Tampa police arrested six teenagers this weekend after a group was robbed at gunpoint Friday night at Fifth Avenue and 14th Street.

"You want to blame that on Empire too?" Grossman asked. "You can't pin all of Ybor's problems on Empire Nightclub."

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at 813 226-3354 or azayas@sptimes.com.