It’s a parent’s nightmare: children playing in a park, and out of nowhere, in the same park, a fight that goes out of control, guns drawn, shots fired randomly, recklessly enough to strike anyone in the vicinity. That’s precisely what happened at Ralph Carter Park Sunday evening, with one exception: none of the half dozen bullets or more fired from a .38-caliber gun struck anyone.
It is the latest incident–and the second that weekend–in Palm Coast’s most unsettled, and unsettling, park.
There were about 100 people at the expansive park Sunday evening, which has a basketball court, a rarely-empty playground for toddlers, and skateboard runs on one side, and vast football and soccer playing fields on the other. It’s also a favorite ground for walkers and runners. A 49-year-old man was one of the parents at the park with his son Sunday evening before sunset.
He described what many witnesses told police: a group of teenagers were playing football on one of the fields. At some point the group started arguing, and moved to the parking lot that rims the playing field. The commotion grew. Suddenly, the witness heard five to seven gunshots, and everyone scattered and ran. Two other witnesses told police that the disturbance had degraded into a physical fight before five to seven shots rang out from a weapon they described as a small, gray handgun.
Witnesses described three vehicles leaving the park. The first witness called 911 at 6:42 p.m. He gave the description of a silver Dodge heading out of the park, for Royal Palms Parkway. Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies very quickly zeroed in on the Dodge on Belle Terre Parkway, and pulled it over just south of Royal Palms Parkway, in the sough lanes, over the bridge. Deputies closed the parkway’s right lane as what looked like a dozen cop cars converged on the scene.
There were seven black men or boys in the car. They were ordered out. A .32-caliber gun was located on the rear floor board, behind the driver’s side, wrapped in a white t-shirt, right where Johnnie Thomas Jr., 18, had been sitting. Thomas, of 710 Hymon Circle in Bunnell, is no stranger to the booking office at the Flagler County jail. He’s been arrested three times this month: for trespassing and resisting arrest on April 2, for obstruction of justice and possessing a negligible amount of marijuana, and on Sunday, for discharging a firearm from a vehicle, shooting a deadly missile, discharging a firearm in public, and dealing in stolen property: the gun in question was reported stolen in Volusia County in 1997.
The trajectory of the shooting spree reveals to what extent the shooting was rapid and random: a deputy recovered six .32 caliber shell casings at the park. Three of them were recovered near the middle of the main parking area, which is sandwiched between the toddler playing area and one of the big playing fields, and about 80 to 100 feet from where the original witness and his son had been playing. Another shell casing was located about 40 feet from the entrance to the park, on Rymfire Drive. Yet another shell casing was located at the entrance itself. And a sixth shell casing was located in the middle of Rymfire Drive, suggesting that the shooter fired the gun as the car was driving out.
One of the occupants of the car who spoke to cops said that he say Thomas shoot the gun three times while in the park, according to a police report, then heard three more shots while the car was driving off. He said the people Thomas was allegedly fighting with were in a car in front of the one he was riding in: if the shots were fired on Rymfire Drive itself, they were a potential threat to traffic on the road. If they’d been fired in the park, they were a potential threat to any of the children and adults playing there.
There were two bullet marks on top of the roof of the Dodge Stratus that had been pulled over on Belle Terre Parkway. One bullet had ricocheted off the top of the roof, another appeared to have gone slightly into the roof. “If the path of the bullet would have continued,” the police report states, “it looks as if it would have struck and seriously injured one of the occupants in the vehicle.”
As the vehicle was being searched on Belle Terre, cops with blue latex gloves went through it thoroughly, its doors and trunk open, as drivers passing the scene gaped and wondered what had happened.
“From looking at the scene,” a police report on the incident states, “it appears that the shooter had no regards for anybody or anyone’s safety that was at the park. From witness statements there were approximately 100 people in the park in total. The way that shell casings were located, it appears that the shooter was recklessly shooting the firearm in a manner that he had no control over it and had no care for where the bullet came to a rest. The park is located next to Rymfire Elementary school,” though the school was closed Sunday evening.
Thomas, who’s being held on $65,000 bond, refused a gunshot residue test.
That wasn’t the only disturbing incident at Ralph carter Park over the weekend.
Saturday evening around 5, an 11-year-old boy who lives near the park, on Red Clover Lane, was at the park, playing at the basketball court. A 20-year-old man, Chad Davis, was playing at the opposite hoop on the court. The boy told police that Davis left, then returned, and when some of the boys on the court asked him if he’d forgotten something, he didn’t reply. He sat there, watching the boys play.
Then, as the 11 year old was tying his show, according to a police report, Davis approached him, grabbed him from behind, picked him up, and started walking out of the park toward Rymfire Drive. The boy struggled, yelled at Davis to put him down. Several of the juveniles who’d been playing at the hoop approached him , at which point Davis placed the boy on top of the marbled Ralph carter Park sign at the entrance of the park, and walked across the park, where he lit a cigarette and continued to watch the children. The children resumed their play. Whhen Davis returned to the court, the boy left and went to a friend’s house.
When the boy got home sometime between 7:30 and 8 p.m. and told a relative about the incident, cops were called in and told that the family did not know Davis and had never seen him before, according to the police report. They gave a description of the Ohio State sweatshirt he was wearing. When Davis was found, one witness was taken to the scene to identify him. The “advised he did not think Mr. Davis was the same person but stated he did not get a good look at Mr. Davis when the incident happened,” according to the police report. But Davis himself gave a description of the incident that matched the boy’s description.
After Davis was read his rights, he told cops that as he was playing basketball, he noticed the boy being picked on by the others. He carried the boy out when he told the others that they shouldn’t be picking on him, and told the boy the same thing: not to play with boys who pick on him.
For that, Davis got a charge of false imprisonment and jailed without bond on a battery charge, and on $500 bond for false imprisonment.