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Friend charged in woman's slaying

A drug deal gone wrong leaves a woman dead and the man who drove her to the hospital charged with third-degree murder.

By JAMIE MALERNEE

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 18, 2001


BROOKSVILLE -- Virgil Fohl's friend sat slumped in the passenger seat next to him with her head bleeding.

Panicked, he drove around Brooksville looking for a place to dump her, police say. It all happened so fast, he would later tell investigators. They had gone to buy crack in south Brooksville, there was a scuffle with the dealer and then the dealer's gun went off.

But after a frantic few minutes of driving, Fohl changed his mind. He turned his truck around and took his friend to the hospital.

Linda Clevinger, a Brooksville resident, died Jan. 7, just short of her 35th birthday. On Friday, officials charged Fohl, 53, of 35031 Reynolds Road in Dade City with third-degree murder. They are still searching for the shooter.

Simply put, Clevinger's death was the result of a drug deal gone wrong, officials say.

When officials questioned him, Fohl originally said he saw his friend get shot while she was walking down the street. He said he put her into his vehicle and drove her to Brooksville Regional Hospital.

But later, he changed his story, records show.

Here's what he told police: He said he was driving around Brooksville with Clevinger when she said she wanted to buy crack. So they went to United 500, a closed gas station on Jefferson Street known as a fast place to purchase drugs.

A man walked up to his window.

Clevinger said she wanted a 50 piece, the slang term for $50 worth of crack.

But both Clevinger and the dealer were faking it. The woman didn't really have $50; she had a $1 bill with fake $50 numbers taped to the end. And the dealer didn't really have crack. It was wax.

Clevinger took the bogus crack, but then she tasted it and realized she was being duped, reports said.

But the dealer wanted his money and reached into the vehicle to snatch the keys. The man and Fohl struggled.

Out came the handgun. The man pointed it behind Fohl's head, toward Clevinger.

Pop!

Clevinger was hit. The man took off running. Fohl panicked.

Authorities served the murder warrant against Fohl at the Hernando County Jail on Friday night. He was already there on charges that he violated probation in another case, in which he is accused of forgery. His bail for the murder charge, $10,000, is less than bail for the probation violation charges, which he has not been able to post.

Fohl has previous convictions for drug possession.

Police will not comment on whether they think Fohl knows the identity of Clevinger's killer. Detective Ron Woods said officials have no suspects and do not expect an arrest anytime soon.

He added that even though Fohl did not shoot Clevinger, he can be charged with third-degree murder because they were committing a felony that led to her death. Prosecutors from the State Attorney's Office decided to use this charge, he said.

Police have described Clevinger, who lived at 24304 Kaufman Road, as a disabled woman with a good heart who had developed a drug problem. She had family in West Virginia and collected disability payments from the Army, where she had a brief career. She had multiple sclerosis and wore leg braces. She also had a criminal record, including a conviction for possession of drug paraphernalia.

Anyone with information on the shooting is asked to call the Brooksville Police Department at 754-6800 or the Hernando County sheriff's anonymous tips line at 797-8477.

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