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Deadly Rampage

Detective hailed as hero, professional, friend

photo
Detective Rick Childers checks over one of the guns found at the Crenshaw Street home, where the boy died. Childers later was slain by the fleeing suspect, Hank Carr. [Times photo: Ken Helle]

 

By MARTY ROSEN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 20, 1998


TAMPA -- He was known as Chilly to prosecutors, police and reporters, but there was nothing cold about Detective Rick Childers.

Friendly. Funny. Outgoing.

Between tears on Tuesday, those who knew him remembered a devoted husband, father and first-rate homicide investigator who was the definition of professionalism and dedication.

"Once you meet Ricky Childers, you never forget him. He's that kind of guy," said Detective Jose Feliciano, who considered the senior officer a mentor. "He'd always come up with a joke. Sometimes, in the worst situations, he'd make you laugh."

Childers, 46, handled some of the city's biggest cases. The murder by Newton Slawson of a family of five. The Glen Rogers serial killings. The case that wrapped up last week in which Terrol Sanders was convicted of the first-degree murder of a man during a home invasion robbery.

Childers, an old pro at tough interviews, went to New Jersey to gain Sanders' trust and extracted a confession from him.

In 1990, he was the hero who pulled 17-year-old Kember Rhodes of Clearwater out of a submerged car. Childers, who had been driving by and saw the red taillight of a car, dove into a murky creek during a rainstorm, broke the driver's window with his flashlight and pulled the trapped girl to safety through the broken window. For that, he was named Officer of the Year.

• Detective hailed as hero, professional, friend

• Among police, 'the world is paralyzed; everybody is crying'

• Trooper had been on job less than year

• Detective Bell just weeks away from 'dull' job

• Carr lived as he died: in violence

• Made-for-TV tragedy unfolded too quickly for live reports

• Caseworkers received allegations of abuse

• Handcuff procedures questioned

Behind the headlines was a detective who sometimes did extraordinary legwork to solve a crime, said federal prosecutor Karen Cox, who worked with Childers during her days as an assistant state attorney. In one case, she needed to link bullets in a body to a shooting suspect.

"This guy used to take his gun out and target shoot in the middle of nowhere. Chilly went out and dug bullets out of the tree," Cox said. "He was very persistent and thorough but in such an amiable way."

A Plant City native, he was married to Vicky Childers, a Tampa police records manager. His stepfather and one of his sons came to the Police Department Tuesday after hearing about the shootings.

"It's just a horrible, horrible thing," Cox said.

Prosecutor Pam Bondi remembered sitting in the front row of a courtroom with Childers in her last murder trial, talking during a break in the testimony. He was telling her how happy he was in his marriage, she said.

"He was saying the way this world is today, he was so lucky to have a happy marriage," Bondi said.

He liked to joke, but he also took his share of teasing. He was teased last week about his new, trendily short haircut. A "George Clooney," he called it. Cox teased him that his gold Movado watch, a gift from his wife, was way too fancy for a cop.

His personnel file, dating back to his hiring on Sept. 4, 1979, was thick with thank-you notes, commendations and accolades. One was from Donna Reed, now deputy managing editor at the Tampa Tribune, who was helped by Childers when her car ran out of gas on a dark road.

On Tuesday morning at the regular detective's meeting in a fifth floor conference room, Childers joked about Detective Randy Bell's promotion to internal affairs and chided fellow detectives: "After today, we can't talk to Randy!"

Bell, who worked countless cases with Childers and later Tuesday died with him, was one of his closest friends in the department. Another close friend, Sgt. Dan Grossi, his most recent supervisor, went to the scene of the Tampa shooting. Distraught, Grossi shook his head repeatedly in disbelief.

"He (Childers) is the kind of guy you instantly liked," said Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe, who talked to the detective Monday when Childers came to his chambers to get a murder warrant signed. "He's going to really be missed, not only by the law enforcement community, but by persons whose lives he touched."
-- Staff writers Sue Carlton, Kathryn Wexler and Susan Clary contributed to this report.

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