Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Execution-style murders near West Palm end lull in major violence

By Leon Fooksman and Jerome Burdi

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

September 19, 2007

The assassins opened fire on a car full of men and sped off from the darkened, crime-plagued apartments, investigators say. Moments later, they crashed their car in another troubled housing complex, exchanged gunfire with a police officer and disappeared on foot into the night.

Tuesday morning's killing of two West Palm Beach men and wounding of another man ended the summer's lull in major violence in Palm Beach County.

The execution-style shootings and escape from police west of West Palm Beach also were notable for other reasons: the use of an assault rifle, fast becoming the weapon of choice among some hardened criminals, and the attack against a law enforcement officer, a crime rapidly growing in South Florida and the rest of the country.

"It's open season on law enforcement," said Paul Miller, spokesman for the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, which is investigating the crimes. "There doesn't seem to be any hesitation to shoot at officers."

Killed were Kyle Seymore, 22, and Wendell Chestnut Jr., 24, the Sheriff's Office said. The third man's identity was not released for security reasons. He was shot in the chest and underwent surgery at St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach and is expected to survive.

Investigators found drugs in the victims' car, sheriff's officials said. Detectives said they are looking at whether the killings were the result of a drug deal gone bad. The homicides don't appear to be gang-related, Miller said.

Seymore and Chestnut had criminal records, state records show.

Residents heard at least nine shots fired shortly before 1 a.m. in the Lake Arjaro apartments near 45th Street and Haverhill Road. In a poorly lit parking lot where residents say they see drug dealing at night, one of the shooters fired an assault rifle and the other unloaded his handgun into a car with three victims, according to investigators.

The shooters and a third man didn't get far in their 1995 gold Mitsubishi Gallant before a West Palm Beach police officer began chasing them south on Haverhill Road, Miller said. Officer Sanjay Raja, who heard the gunfire, followed the car for more than four miles as it fled into the Haverhill Gardens apartments and crashed against a fence close to Haverhill Road and Okeechobee Boulevard. One of the suspects fired at Raja, who returned fire. No one was injured.

The men escaped on foot, two running along the fence and the other hopping over it, Miller said.

Investigators found a red sneaker near the fence and a firearm in the car, Miller said. He was unsure whether it was the assault weapon or the handgun.

Many residents at both apartment complexes said they are accustomed to violence around their homes, and weren't surprised by Tuesday morning's shootings. The gunfire sent many ducking for cover and under their beds.

"It's really scary here," said Thomas Chapman, 59, a four-year resident of Lake Arjaro. In July, a 29-year-old man was shot dead there and a firebombing destroyed an apartment days later. "I pray for this whole area. It's out of control here."

At Haverhill Gardens, residents were awakened shortly after 1 a.m. by heavily armed police officers with dogs searching the suspects.

Tracy Jones, 18, said she wants to break her lease and get out of Haverhill Gardens. Just outside her second-floor apartment, a 16-year-old girl was found shot dead after she pleaded for her life in April 2006.

"I want to go anywhere but here," Jones said.

Lake Arjaro maintenance worker Thomas Braswell said both complexes are operated by the same company.

The killing devastated Seymore's mother, Gloria Hamilton Wiley, a Sheriff's Office corrections deputy. She said her son was playing a video game at the home of his cousin in Caribbean Village on Monday night. She thinks Seymore, Chestnut and the third man were shot while Seymore was driving back home to his grandmother's house.

Although Seymore had trouble with police in the past, including drug charges and an accusation of trying to shoot someone, he had changed his life, Wiley said. He worked for an electric company, while completing a 90-day apprenticeship, she said.

"He was excited about getting his life right," Wiley said. "Every time he steered right, something was in the way."

Anyone with information should call the Sheriff's Office at 561-688-4000 or Crime Stoppers at 800-458-8477.

Staff Writer Chrystian Tejedor and Staff Researchers Barbara Hijek and William Lucey contributed to this report.

Leon Fooksman can be reached at or 561-243-6647.

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