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Last of the Lutz Boyz?
By BILL COATS
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 4, 2000
TAMPA -- As an Ybor City bar fight unraveled in March, a bystander began videotaping. Within days, the tape would dominate a murder investigation.
First, it showed two young men running away from the fight. Then, back in the crowd, an alarmed 22-year-old serviceman visiting Tampa from Charleston, S.C., pulled up his blue shirt to show friends that he had been stabbed. In fact, Jeremiah Kleiss had been stabbed in the heart, and he soon would die.
To Tampa homicide detectives, at least one of the fleeing men could be a murderer.
To north Hillsborough sheriff's deputies, they may be the last of the Lutz Boyz.
One of the men, Michael Fuqua, 23, is in jail without bail, charged with second-degree murder in the stabbing. Police have identified the second man running away as Jamie McCullough, who denies being a "Lutz Boy" but is considered one by Lutz's community resource deputy.
McCullough, 24, hasn't been charged in the Ybor City incident. But he and Fuqua are codefendants in a burglary case. Although the burglary happened last December, police reports and arrest warrants weren't issued in the case until March 30, the same day that Fuqua was charged with murder.
Another codefendant in the burglary, Jarrett Brock, 19, also was considered a Lutz Boy. He has implicated Fuqua in the stabbing, saying Fuqua threatened to kill him if he talked.
Tampa Police spokesman Joe Durkin said further charges in the case haven't been ruled out.
"The investigation is still wide open," he said.
But officially, McCullough and Brock simply are among "hundreds of people we've talked to," Durkin said.
Both men face other charges. When McCullough was arrested in the burglary, deputies charge, he was caught with marijuana. Last week, Brock was charged with breaking a man's jaw in an altercation Monday night at the Lutz McDonald's.
Gordon Brown, the Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy who is assigned to north Lutz as a community resource officer, considered Fuqua, McCullough and Brock a stubborn remnant of the Lutz Boyz, a group of youths that was mostly shredded by a series of arrests two years ago.
Now, the three are ensnarled with criminal charges.
"Right now, the Lutz Boyz are probably non-existent," Brown said. "They're pretty much history."
The 'LB' signal
Brown, who lives in Lutz, recalls that the name "Lutz Boys" originally was a clean one, adopted by local baseball players. But several years ago, the image -- and spelling -- changed to represent vandalism and graffiti.
Then, in June 1998, nearly a dozen young men ransacked the home of a gay man in Lutz, as his two young siblings cowered with friends in a bedroom.
At least 10 youths were charged. By early last year, at least five accepted plea agreements in exchange for probation or community control sentences. At least three were prosecuted as juveniles, so the disposition of their cases wasn't public record.
Most were considered by deputies to be associated with the Lutz Boyz.
Within weeks of accepting plea deals, two of the youths were accused of returning to the home and yelling threats. They spent more than 50 days in jail, suspected of violating terms of their sentences, before being cleared.
Belvin Sanchez, the area's gang suppression deputy with the Sheriff's Office, thinks such consequences may have sobered the group. He has considered the Lutz Boyz to be defunct and quiet ever since.
"Most of them now are not even allowed to associate with each other," Sanchez said.
Brown, the community resource deputy, agrees. "After that incident happened, most of them went their separate ways."
Fuqua, meanwhile, wasn't involved in the ransacking; he was in prison for robbery at the time. And McCullough and Brock weren't accused of involvement, at least publicly.
Fuqua returned to Lutz from prison last June. That same month, someone signaled that the Lutz Boyz weren't disbanded after all: They spray-painted "LB" on street signs all over the community. No one ever was caught.
The 'Lutz G' tag
Brown contends that Fuqua, McCullough and Brock became a core trio perpetuating the Lutz Boyz. Fuqua and McCullough "were charismatic, and for some reason, they impressed some of these kids."
According to deputies, the three at least were together as Lutz Boyz on Dec. 16, when they are accused of stealing a DVD player from an apartment on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
And according to police, Fuqua and McCullough were together when Kleiss was stabbed.
The amateur videotape shows the two men running abreast down the Ybor City street just after Kleiss was stabbed. McCullough glances back toward the fight, then begins pulling off his shirt as he runs.
Durkin, the police spokesman, said the video triggered many calls after it was broadcast on television. Eight homicide detectives worked the case simultaneously.
On March 30, Brock gave prosecutors a deposition quoting Fuqua as saying he stabbed Kleiss, according to court files. Brock also helped detectives recover the football jersey Fuqua wore and told them he loaned Fuqua the knife.
Fuqua, of 17610 Grove View Drive in Lutz, was arrested that same evening while playing basketball at Nye Park.
Late the next night, Brock was arrested at his home on Rivendel Road in the burglary case. McCullough was arrested at a residence on N Florida Avenue the following week.
McCullough denies involvement in the bar fight. "They haven't said anything to me," he said. "I just heard about it."
He also denies being a Lutz Boy. "All those people were younger than me," he said. "I don't live in Lutz anymore."
In response to that, Deputy Brown checked the specialized license plate "Lutz G" on his computer last week. It remained registered to McCullough's four-door, white, 1987 Cadillac.
"He's still got "Lutz G' on his tag. That's Lutz Gang," Brown said. "He used to be proud of that. He used to brag about that. Now things have changed."
-- Bill Coats can be reached at 226-3469 or email@example.com.
© St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.