tampabay.com

Shooting stuns neighbors

The dead man's subdivision is locked down while deputies search for the gunman.

By REBECCA CATALANELLO and JACKIE RIPLEY
Published July 26, 2007


TAMPA - Jason Mullis was a fixture in his Northdale neighborhood.

He lived in a house once owned by his parents in a prominent location along the entrance to the Hampton Village subdivision. He regularly threw neighborhood parties for his two young girls and their friends, and frequently hosted neighbors for cookouts and gatherings, residents said.

"Everybody knows him," said Gail Deriso, 52. "He's just a nice country boy."

Mullis, 35, died Wednesday afternoon on Hoedt Road, next to his red Ford truck, just around the bend from his house, 3201 Hoedt Road - shot to death by someone he knew, a sheriff's spokesman said.

Neighbors coming upon the scene at Hoedt Road and N Dale Mabry Highway were stunned to realize that the reason deputies blocked off access to their homes was that their trusted neighbor was dead in the street.

And that the man suspected of killing him was on the run inside their subdivision.

Darlene Mortellaro, a resident of the area for 22 years, arrived at the scene right after the shooting, and said an eyewitness told her the two men had been in an argument so loud it attracted the attention of nearby workers at Pep Boys Auto.

Hillsborough sheriff's spokesman J.D. Callaway said Thomas Hall, 51, of 26042 Willow St. in Brooksville, shot Mullis about 4:20 p.m., and ran into the neighborhood.

Deputies scoured the neighborhood with search dogs, helicopters, cruisers and on foot. Residents in their homes were blocked from leaving and told to stay inside.

Deputies found Hall just over an hour later thanks to help from a third party, Callaway said, declining to release any more details of the capture. Hall was taken into custody and charged with first-degree murder, he said.

Rumors rippled through the crowds of onlookers about the nature of the two men's dispute.

Asked if investigators believed the shooting was domestic in nature, Callaway nodded his head. But the sheriff's spokesman said more witnesses needed to be interviewed before they could release a possible motive.

According to court records, Mullis was married for 12 years to Kerry Terry, 36, before divorcing in 2005. Neighbors said he worked in construction and was renovating the home deeded to him by his parents.

Reached by phone, a member of Mullis' family declined to talk about him.

Hall has no prior criminal record.

The shooting disrupted rush hour traffic in the already jammed thoroughfare north of Bearss Avenue on N Dale Mabry Highway.

Resident David Chamberlin, 47, stood on one side of yellow crime scene tape while his 17-year-old son, inside their home, talked to him by cell phone about the lockdown and what he was seeing on the television news.

"It always makes you nervous," said Chamberlin, a resident of the subdivision for 10 years. He waited for more than an hour to get home.

At Pep Boys Auto, assistant manager Jeremy Horab had to turn away business because two employees had disappeared, giving witness statements to deputies. He was surprised when customers expressed dismay.

"I'm sorry," he said. "If you can wrestle them away from police, have at it."

By 7:30 p.m., as the sun faded into a cooler night, residents lined up inside the police tape, giving their names to deputies so that they could be escorted back into the neighborhood without disrupting the crime scene.

Mullis' body remained several feet away, draped by a white sheet, his feet pointed toward home.

Times researchers John Martin and Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or 813 226-3383.