Cleared, but still burdened after split-second decision to fire fatal road-rage shot gas prices in michigan

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Handout photos provided by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office that shows the scene where Robert Padgett shot and killed Gary Durham during a road rage incident on E Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. near Forbes Road in August. Durham cut off Padgett, stopped his small pickup truck blocking Padgett from passing and got out of his vehicle. Durham then approached Padgett’s Ford SUV yelling and making threatening remarks. Padgett shot Durham once at close range in the chest. No charges were filed against Padgett.

"You’re carrying an obligation to be the last person to respond. You have to always be thinking about confrontations and situations, and it’s exhausting. Sometimes I would rather not carry in some ways because I don’t want to have to think about it."

As he drove north on Forbes Road, Padgett chatted with his stepfather by phone on his Bluetooth headset. Instead of taking his usual Interstate 4 route, he made a last-minute decision to turn onto Dr. King boulevard with plans to stop for coffee in Plant City. It was about 6:25 a.m., half an hour before sunrise.

A former firefighter with Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, Padgett works for a construction company, driving an 80-ton truck moving heavy equipment to and from out-of-state job sites. His commercial driver’s license is his livelihood so he drives "like an old lady."

When the headlight appeared in his rearview mirror, Padgett eased off the gas pedal to make it easier for the vehicle to pass him. But there were oncoming headlights ahead. A Mazda pickup with a headlight out suddenly appeared on Padgett’s right, cut him off and stopped abruptly.

Padgett stood on his brake pedal and nearly slammed into the truck’s bumper. With an uneasy feeling, he shifted into reverse and backed up with plans to go around the truck, but headlights appeared in the distance behind him, so he stopped. His driver door handle was less than three car lengths from the driver door handle of the truck.

Handout photos provided by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office that shows the scene where Robert Padgett shot and killed Gary Durham during a road rage incident on E Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard near Forbes Road in August. Durham cut off Padgett, stopped his small pickup truck blocking Padgett from passing and got out of his vehicle. Durham then approached Padgett’s Ford SUV yelling and making threatening remarks. Padgett shot Durham once at close range in the chest. No charges were filed against Padgett.

Other motorists drove up on the scene but investigators found no witnesses who saw the shooting. One witness said Padgett looked like "an undercover cop" as he stood behind his door, gun trained on the man on the ground. A school bus driver who passed by remarked how calm Padgett looked at that point.

"I felt the strongest level of fear that I have ever felt in my life, and it triggered something in me to know that this will not end well," Padgett told the Times. "But right when I pulled the trigger, I had a calmness. I had a peace, that I knew I had to that."

In October 2001, Durham turned in front of motorist Timothy James Gibbs at the intersection of N Armenia and W Linebaugh avenues. Durham followed Gibbs into a parking lot, they got out and argued. Durham punched Gibbs in the face, a Tampa police report said.

Durham was convicted of manslaughter in 2002 and served about 10 years in prison. It was his third and longest prison stint, after previous convictions for aggravated assault, grand theft and trafficking in stolen property, state records show. He was released in 2012 and was on probation at the time of his death.

Known as synthetic marijuana or spice, the herbal material has been sprayed with chemicals that behave in ways similar to THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. But it can be 100 times more potent than pot and cause erratic — and sometimes violent — behavior.

A toxicology screening showed only caffeine in Durham’s system. The Sheriff’s Office did not ask the Hillsborough Medical Examiner’s Office to screen for synthetic marijuana, which is typically difficult to detect because it contains many compounds, said Dr. Julia Pearson, chief toxicologist with the medical examiner.

Padgett’s account is the rare case that aligns perfectly with Florida’s divisive stand your ground law, which states that an individual met with the threat of violence need not retreat before responding with force, said Charles H. Rose III, director of the Center for Excellence in Advocacy at Stetson University College of Law in Tampa.

Friends and loved ones tried to comfort him by talking about divine intervention, about being placed at that intersection by God to protect others who might have crossed paths with Durham that morning. Padgett said he eventually came to believe that.

Taking a life in an act of violence can trigger post-traumatic stress disorder, said Dr. Glenn Currier, professor and chair of psychiatry at the University of South Florida Health Morsani College of Medicine. It’s a common cause of the disorder in combat veterans.

"I didn’t trust myself," he said. "It was like I was trapped in an out-of-control robot. I was fighting a lot of demons inside of me and was not myself. I was pretending to be okay. It was terrorizing me, and eventually it was just too much."

Padgett told the men that Durham’s rage, driving him to shoot, uncovered a latent anger that was probably rooted in Padgett’s childhood. He said he had an abusive father, a U.S. Army veteran scarred by combat in the Vietnam War. He told them not to keep their emotions corked.

His goal is to become certified by the National Rifle Association to give advanced firearms training classes. He wants to teach people how to go through a mental checklist, even when they’re frightened, in deciding whether to pull the trigger. And he wants to tell them how to navigate the aftermath if they do.