tampabay.com

Life together put on hold

An accident with many questions leaves a groom in a coma.

By REBECCA CATALANELLO AND JACOB FRIES
Published July 15, 2007


TAMPA - The wedding was set. Five o'clock Saturday at the Garden Club of St. Petersburg. Seventy-five guests. Family members from three states. One-hundred-fifty pink and white carnations. "Pool blue" bridesmaids dresses. A cake-topper specially ordered to reflect the interracial union.

Saturday came and went. Bride and groom remained side by side, saying nothing. He, with two broken legs, in an induced coma. She, in a state of shock, wanting to touch him, being told she couldn't. Grateful he was still alive.

To think she practically had to shove him out of the house on Wednesday, telling him to have fun, but be careful. It was his only day off work before the wedding, the only time Frederick "Buck" Williams, 22, and his best man could find to squeeze in a bachelor party.

When the two men left Williams' Largo home at 12:30 a.m. after a full day of boating, they didn't know where they were headed.

Tampa bars stay open late, Deanna Cox, 21, reminded her fiance. Try there.

At 4 a.m., a ringing phone jolted Cox from her sleep. Williams had been hit by a car in front of 2001 Odyssey, a strip club on N Dale Mabry Highway. He was at St. Joseph's Hospital.

* * *

How this bachelor party turned to into a wedding day nightmare isn't clear. Tampa police gave only rough details Saturday, saying a full report would not be available until Monday.

But according to Lt. Gerry McNamara:

Brandon French, 22, was driving a Lexus sport utility vehicle in front of the strip club, his buddy Justin Moseley, 25, in the passenger seat. Both men are from St. Petersburg.

At some point, Williams punched Moseley in the face. Moseley ran north on Dale Mabry Highway, Williams chasing him.

French took off in the Lexus to rescue Moseley and ended up hitting Williams. French and Moseley left the scene, fleeing to Pinellas County before calling police.

No one has been charged, but McNamara said the case has been forwarded to the State Attorney's Office for review.

That scant police account doesn't sound wrong to Cox and Williams' family. But it also leaves unanswered questions.

If Williams punched someone, what provoked him? He's usually even-tempered, they said, known as a family peacemaker.

"It had to be something really bad," mother Alicia Reynolds, 41, said at the hospital Saturday.

Williams was arrested in 2006 for disorderly conduct and paid a court fine.

The best man told Williams' family that the men used racial epithets. Williams' family wonders if Williams, who is black, was targeted because of his skin color.

* * *

Talking with a reporter outside Moseley's St. Petersburg home Saturday, Moseley and French maintained they are the victims. The only reason they left the scene, they said, was that they were scared for their lives.

According to them, when they pulled up to the strip club, Moseley got out. Williams, who was nearby, started trash-talking the Lexus SUV, saying he had a Honda that was better.

Williams then reached through the open passenger door, into the vehicle. Uncertain what Williams was trying to do, Moseley told him to get out.

Williams hit him behind his left ear, said Moseley, who stumbled, then ran and yelled for French to pick him up. Williams and a second man, whom they referred to as "the Spanish guy," chased after Moseley, who zigzagged, trying to lose them.

Moseley said he ended up running on Dale Mabry, against the direction of traffic.

"Somebody run over this n----- and get 10 points!" Moseley shouted, using what he said was the only racial slur.

Moseley then changed directions, heading the other way on the highway, as French pulled onto the street. Williams ran in front of the SUV as French tried to reach Moseley, the two men said.

"Moseley was going this way and that way, and then the guy got in front of the car and I hit him," French said. The car, he said, was moving at 30 to 40 mph. The two friends sped away.

They called police from the road. But Moseley hung up because French was upset. "Brandon was crying and saying, 'I just killed the guy,' " Moseley said, adding that he knew police would call him back.

When Moseley spoke with officers again, he asked them to meet the two of them in St. Petersburg

"We didn't know how bad it was," Moseley said Saturday, when told Williams was in an induced coma. "I pray to the Lord that this guy is all right."

In 2004, Moseley was charged with driving under the influence, for which he spent 10 days in jail and paid a fine, according to state records. French was arrested in 2004 for carrying a concealed weapon, disorderly conduct, possession of drug paraphernalia and possessing a false ID. He pleaded guilty to most of the charges and paid fines.

* * *

Cox said she was shocked that Moseley admitted using a racial epithet and calling out for someone to run over her fiance.

There are the smaller details that don't add up for the family: Williams doesn't have a car, let alone a Honda, Cox said. Who is the person they referred to as the "Spanish guy"? Williams' best man, Cox said, is Irish, blond, pale.

Odyssey manager Steve Stratos said he reviewed the parking lot surveillance video from the club. When the Lexus SUV pulls up, two men are walking beside it, Stratos said. Suddenly, the men turn around as though someone in the SUV said something to them.

The video is dark and it isn't clear what happens next - if there is a physical fight or not, Stratos said. But in less than a minute two men are seen running off the surveillance screen.

* * *

Cox and Williams met two years ago at Tyrone Square Mall. Williams, an assistant manager at the Foot Action shoe store, walked into the boutique where Cox works to give out hugs.

Within four months, they fell in love. Within another four months, they moved in together. On Christmas Day they got engaged. In March, they got pregnant.

Being a shoe guy, Williams immediately put two pairs of baby shoes on hold. Blue booties for a boy. Pink ones if it's a girl.

On Wednesday, an ultrasound will tell which it'll be.

Cox figures her wedding dress will fit for about another three weeks. But she's trying not to think about that too much.

"My wedding day," she said, seated in the hospital lobby, "is insignificant now."

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.