FDLE agent has special calling
Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 30, 2002 at 11:50 p.m.
LAKE CITY - Bill Gootee's life has two sides - crime busting by day and pin busting by night.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement special agent who has worked in the 3rd Judicial Circuit for the past 17 years is the same man who has devoted more than a decade to teaching kids to bowl and helping them earn college scholarships.
"I guess it's really the same three things that make you a success in bowling or law enforcement," Gootee said. "Concentrate. Look at your target. Know that you can do it."
Gootee, 55, has had success both personally and professionally. He was a finalist for the FDLE agent of the year in 1999. Earlier this year, his 185 bowling average helped the Ryan's Family Steak House team to a second place finish in the Florida State Men's Tournament.
"I sure enjoy bowling - I've had a couple of 700 series and even a 289 game (out of a possible 300) a few years ago - but my goal is to be able to help someone somewhere along the way," Gootee said. "I feel like we've accomplished that because of all the kids who have learned to bowl and gotten some scholarship help, too."
Gootee and his wife, Bonnie, began bowling at Lake City Bowl when it opened in 1987. Bonnie likes to tease her husband by pointing out that she learned to bowl in high school, so he must have learned from her.
"And I still beat him at it occasionally," said Bonnie, who has been married to Gootee for 34 years.
While the Gootees were playing in the first league formed at the lanes, they were also working to develop a local Young American Bowling Alliance league.
As they began meeting young bowlers, the Gootees said they noticed something that surprised them. Many of the children's only physical activity was bowling.
"A lot of them didn't feel they were good enough or had the self-confidence to do anything else," Bill Gootee said. On Saturday mornings a hundred kids or more would show up and everyone got to participate.
"In bowling, no one sits on a bench. Everyone plays," Gootee said.
What delighted Gootee even more than the growing numbers was the turnover in young bowlers. "We started losing some kids after a year or two, but we were losing them to other activities - they built up their self-confidence and went on to participate in school activities and other things, which was good," he said.
Those who did the best in their age group were rewarded with scholarship money, including some awards of $50 to elementary school children. The money came from fees the children paid to participate and from donors.
"We want to get kids to start thinking about going to college real young so it will be kind of ingrained in them when they get older," he said.
One of Gootee's best friends, Lake City Bowl owner Brian Meek, said he admires how Gootee teaches skills in a fun way so the youngsters enjoy themselves as they learn.
"Bill and Bonnie have taken at least 40 kids to the state tournament over the past 11 years, and we even had one Coca-Cola national champion come out of this program," Meek said. Recently, one of the youth bowlers was asked to join the Florida State University bowling team.
Bonnie said very few of the young bowlers ever realized that her husband's career was in law enforcement.
"It's just something that he has been very good at doing - leaving his work at the office," Bonnie said. "He is one of those people whose work and whose other life are very separate."
Life in the law
Bill Gootee started off adult life in a U.S. Army uniform. The Louisville native served two tours of duty in Vietnam before earning his associate's degree in law enforcement from Eastern Kentucky University.
Gootee's first law enforcement job was with the Berea, Ky., Police Department in 1970, the town where his widowed mother still lives.
Four years later, Bill and Bonnie moved to Naples so Bill could take a job with the police department there. In 1978, he moved on to a job as an investigator specializing in auto theft, arson and insurance fraud for the National Automobile Theft Bureau in Lakeland.
By the time Gootee was hired as an FDLE agent in 1985, he and Bonnie had a son and a daughter, who are now both adults. The family moved to Columbia County, and Gootee began reporting to his new boss, Special Agent Supervisor James Taylor. For the past 17 years, Gootee has been reporting to Taylor out of the Live Oak office that serves Columbia, Dixie, Hamilton, Lafayette, Madison and Suwannee counties.
"Bill is very versatile," Taylor said. "He was our fugitive agent for a long time, but he has also handled a variety of tasks in the six counties that this office services. We hired him because he had a good background and the kind of experience needed in this rural area."
Two memorable cases
Gootee's most frustrating case is a still-unsolved murder with almost no clues.
At 8:30 a.m. on Dec. 4, 1989, wrecker driver Eugene Parnell, 24, went out on a call that had come in from a call box along Interstate 10. About 40 minutes later a passing driver reported a man's body on the ground next to a wrecker.
It was Parnell. He had been shot and killed.
"We never really had any leads in that case other than the murder was committed with a Mauser, which is an unusual rifle," Gootee said. "I'm still very frustrated that we haven't been able to solve that case."
The case Gootee is most proud of took nearly 10 years and thousands of miles to solve.
Barbara Williams was reported missing by her mother, a Columbia County woman, in 1990. Working with Columbia County Sheriff's Sgt. Randy Roberts, Gootee was able to identify a woman found dead four years later outside Nephi, Utah, as Williams.
Her ex-husband, who had gone on to a second marriage and second divorce, was identified as a suspect in 1999. Howell Williams was being held in Charlotte County in a theft case when Utah officials delivered his arrest warrant for Barbara Williams' death.
"During my interview with him, he had made reference to finding the Lord, but he denied killing her," Gootee said. "I told him 'If you found the Lord, you need to do right by this.' "
Howell Williams dropped his head and cried and told Gootee and others that he did want to do right, and he confessed to the murder.
"What really surprised me about that case was that after he went to prison, he wrote me a letter and thanked me for confronting him with this burden he had carried all those years," Gootee said. "This case also helped bring some closure to her family."
Karen Voyles can be reached at (352) 486-5058 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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