Crime spree ends in gunfire
Published: Sunday, January 23, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 24, 2011 at 12:05 a.m.
MARION COUNTY -- When Victor Walker came home to Ocala in early April 2009, he acted like a model citizen.
He attended church with his girlfriend and her family, fixed anything broken in his parents' Marion Oaks home and talked of becoming a long-haul trucker.
Just before 5 p.m. on May 4, Walker called his girlfriend, Dana McCrae. Free for dinner? They had been arguing the past couple of days. McCrae thought Walker was making amends.
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He arrived moments later with his brother and parked his Nissan Altima in her garage. The plan was for McCrae to follow them as the two men drove in the brother's purple Jeep to their parents' home.
While en route, Walker told her to go back to her house and retrieve a duffle bag he had left in his trunk.
“What's going on?” McCrae asked.
“Oh, nothing,” Walker replied calmly.
During their bumpy relationship, she had learned not to ask too many questions.
A few minutes later, inside her Marion Oaks home, she heard a helicopter overhead.
“I didn't know what was going on,” McCrae told deputies later. “I'm not thinking it's me.”
“I come out of the house with the bag and one [deputy] pulls up, then two pulls up, then 50 come out of nowhere.”
She dropped the duffle bag and didn't move. They were looking for Victor Walker.
McCrae didn't know it at the time, but moments before her boyfriend called about that dinner date he had fired an AK-47-style assault rifle at two deputies, nearly killing both.
Authorities would soon catch him, and he would be sentenced to a 51-year term in federal prison.
The details would come out soon enough: The traffic stop. The fleeing. The gunshots that could have landed Walker on death row and secured him a place among Marion County's most infamous criminals.
It didn't have to be that way. This was Walker's chance for a fresh start.
For the previous six months, Walker had been living in Mansfield, Ohio, with Allen Butler, Katy Radney, his cousin Jae Ross and Ross' girlfriend. While Radney worked fast food jobs, Walker orchestrated and, with Butler and Ross' help, executed a string of armed robberies.
He had returned to Ocala on about April 4, 2009 to the Marion Oaks home where his parents and four siblings lived. Butler, Radney and that couple's baby had also come back to Marion County.
Walker, Butler and Radney had not worked since they came back to Ocala. They wanted money.
Before long, the armed robberies started again.
On April 19, Walker, Butler and Radney drove Walker's stolen Nissan Altima to Hungry Howie's on Southwest 93rd Court Road, near On Top of the World. It was about 10 p.m. — closing time.
The three had gone to case the restaurant. Walker had been meticulous about knowing a store before robbing it in Ohio. He knew when it opened and closed, its layout, entrances and exits, how many employees were on duty and when it was flush with money.
But emboldened by their successes in Ohio — police never came close to catching them — Walker and Butler decided to rob the pizza restaurant then and there. Why wait?
Radney moved from the backseat to the wheel. She parked at the nearby Chili's restaurant and left the engine running. Her 4-month-old baby, Andrew, was sleeping in his car seat in the back.
Walker had one walkie-talkie and Radney the other.
Walker was armed with his Smith and Wesson .40-caliber pistol. The two men waited by a trash bin until an employee came out. The open door was their cue to move and make sure their first employee wasn't going to be a problem.
Just as in Ohio, they tied his wrists with plastic ties and rushed into the store.
Nathan Lane, a pizza delivery driver, was inside cleaning when Walker and Butler stormed through the back door.
“He [Walker] told me to get down on the floor,” recalled Lane, 28.
“So I get down on the floor and he sticks the gun to my back. The other guy ... tells the manager to get on the floor and zip locks her hands behind her back,” Lane said.
Walker and Butler stole about $600 and began to leave. The robbery took only a couple of minutes. But it wasn't over yet.
With each crime in Ohio, Walker had become more brazen and daring. That would also be true in Marion County.
“They come back to me and he [Walker] sticks a gun to the back of my head and tells me ‘You look like you want to fight,' ” Lane said. “So I said, ‘No, not at all.'
“At this point I wasn't sure whether he was going to shoot me or what. It was a game to him. He was enjoying it. He was laughing when he was saying it ... He had no worries about anything.”
Lane was spared.
The next known robbery didn't go as smoothly.
On May 4, Walker, Butler and Walker's 20-year-old half brother, Jeremy Nedrick, drove to a Burger King in Lady Lake.
They arrived in Walker's stolen Nissan Altima at 4 a.m., before the restaurant opened. Walker and Butler hid in a trash bin next to the building. The plan was to rush into the store as soon as someone opened and before customers arrived. Days before, Nedrick had visited the restaurant to see if it had any security cameras or an alarm system and reported back to Walker.
Until then, Nedrick's only problem with Marion County law enforcement was a 2007 arrest for retail theft. Now, Nedrick was going to be the getaway driver.
Unlike Walker and Butler's previous robberies in Ohio and Florida, this time the men were spotted.
Two maintenance workers saw the masked robbers in the Dumpster and walked toward them to investigate. One asked Walker and Butler what they were doing.
The plan was falling apart. They didn't have many options.
Walker and Butler got out of the Dumpster to get back to their car. But Walker stayed behind just after climbing out and shot the AK-47 in the air as a warning. Then he pointed it at the two maintenance workers, demanding to know which had the keys to the store. Walker didn't like it when things didn't go as planned.
Meanwhile, Butler ran back to Walker, yelling they had to leave. The heist was a bust.
Walker ordered the maintenance workers to the ground and begrudgingly got back in the car with Butler and Nedrick and sped away.
“What the hell are you doing?” screamed an angry Butler. “We can't do it now. You [expletive] it up.”
In less than 12 hours, they would have bigger problems.
Katy Radney had been living with her parents in their dilapidated, single-wide mobile home with her disabled father, unemployed mother and 12-year-old brother.
They didn't think much of Butler, who had no job or prospects. They said she deserved better.
Trash and toys were scattered throughout the grassless front yard. Radney's parents have had custody of her baby since her arrest. Radney's first child died in 2006 when Radney, sleeping on her couch, rolled over and smothered her daughter. She takes medications for depression, she said.
She met Butler when she was 13. He has been the most constant male figure in her life.
About 11 hours after the bungled Burger King robbery, Walker picked up Radney from her parents' home and, with Butler, headed to Walker's parents' house. The plan was to meet there and talk about getting back to Ohio.
“But Victor didn't stop at the stop sign correctly and the cop was coming from the other direction,” Radney said. “We watched the cop do a loop-d-loop and blue lighted us.”
Marion County Sheriff's Deputy Matthew Nasworth had been on the job less than a year when he saw Victor Walker roll through the stop sign on Southwest 155th Street in Marion Oaks.
Walker saw the lights and brought his gray Nissan Altima to a stop. There were no homes or other cars in sight. It was 4:30 p.m.
Nasworth was relaxed as he walked toward them to ask for identification.
Despite Nasworth's demeanor, law officers know that traffic stops can be deadly. About a year later, two Tampa police officers would be shot and killed during a routine traffic stop. Police say the shooter was the passenger in the car who, like Walker, had a pending warrant for his arrest.
Nasworth wasn't thinking the occupants in his case were dangerous. There was nothing out of the ordinary about the stop.
But Walker hadn't taken the guns from the Burger King robbery attempt out of the car from earlier that morning. Ballistics tests could connect the guns to robberies in Ohio, including one in which a pizza store manager was shot and left for dead and a Burger King restaurant worker was shot at, but not hit.
Walker gave Nasworth three false names to buy time.
With each return to the car by Nasworth, Walker wanted to shoot the rookie cop, and was telling Butler to help him get the AK-47-style assault weapon from under the passenger seat. Butler and Radney were against it. After all, they had their baby son in the back seat to think of.
There were arrest warrants — unrelated to the armed robberies — out for Walker and Radney. Neither wanted to go to prison.
“I just thought, oh God,” Radney said during an interview at the Marion County Jail. “I knew the car was stolen. There was a gun under the front passenger seat. I have a warrant for my arrest [and] I've got my 5-month old son in the car.
“I'm [expletive] every which way.”
By then, Nasworth was getting suspicious and called a second deputy for help.
“We seen the backup coming. It was just a chain reaction,” Radney recalled.
Walker hit the gas and sped north on Southwest 85th Avenue. Nasworth pursued with Deputy Roderic Marques behind him.
Radney and Butler were screaming to get out of the car. Walker kept screaming for them to give him the assault weapon.
“No way, dude. I'm not giving you no gun,” Butler yelled back.
Walker told them to get ready to jump out when he stopped.
Radney unlatched the baby seat and jumped. Butler got out at the same time, kicking the assault weapon closer to his friend. It was the last time they would see Walker.
Four stops later on Southwest 79th Avenue Road, at the end of a chase that lasted less than a mile, Walker got the assault weapon free, swung the door open and started shooting at the two unsuspecting deputies, who had stopped just feet behind him.
“I [was] thinking [Walker's] looking for a spot to bail. It never entered my mind he was loading a gun,” Marques would say later, standing at the spot where the shooting occurred.
The two deputies hid behind their dashboards as the bullets flew. “It sounded like thunder,” Nasworth said.
He pressed his body close to the Bible he kept by the driver's door and managed to fire a single round with his .45-caliber pistol. He still doesn't remember pulling the trigger.
When the shooting stopped, the two men peeked out. Walker was gone. “I had two choices. I either back up or I start engaging him,” Marques said. “I remember it going through my head: I'm overpowered. The fire power is too much.
“As I leaned to the left, I took one right in front of me and I couldn't believe it didn't hit me,” he said.
He radioed in the shooting to dispatch and said Nasworth was likely hit.
“And that freaked me out ... because I thought he was dead and I didn't get a chance to return fire,” Marques said.
But Nasworth had also ducked. “I saw his face,” the rookie said, “and I knew he was going to shoot.”
Bullets tore through the front of Nasworth's car and out the back, shredding everything they hit in between. Nasworth said it was only because he pushed his torso under his steering wheel and behind the dash that he lived.
A bullet grazed his left temple and drew blood but caused no lasting damage. If the shot had struck a fraction of an inch the other way, he could have died.
“I was literally thinking, ‘You're going to be OK. You're going to be fine,' ” he recalled telling himself.
The deputies ducking and Walker's poor aim weren't what saved Marques and Nasworth. As meticulous as Walker was about planning robberies, he had never gotten around to learning basic assault tactics to use with his semi-automatic rifle.
Both deputies agree that if Walker had only walked toward them as he laid down his suppressive fire, he could have shot both of them at point-bank range. Instead, as deputies hid behind their foam-filled dashboards, Walker got back in his car and fled.
He wouldn't be a free man for long.
At 5:38 p.m. deputies spotted Walker, Jeremy Nedrick and their sister, Mary, in Nedrick's purple Jeep on County Road 484 in Marion Oaks.
They chased the Jeep south on 75th Avenue while other deputies and a helicopter joined the manhunt. This time, Walker was outgunned and there was no getting away. A few blocks later one of the deputies rammed the fleeing car. Walker jumped out and ran. Nedrick and Walker's sister surrendered immediately.
Walker made it three blocks through undeveloped, wooded lots before deputies found him trying to break through the rear sliding door of a nearby home.
“I wish I had broken my neck,” a disappointed Walker told deputies interviewing him at the Marion County Sheriff's Office after his arrest. “I'm here getting ready to go to jail for the rest of my life.”
When deputies wanted to test him for gun powder residue, he resisted. Four deputies held him down and he quickly complied.
“My life is already over,” he told them.
During the two-hour interview, Walker gave deputies little to work with, other than where they could find the assault weapon. But by then, deputies already knew about McCrae and the duffle bag. Deputies also found photographs of an area gas station on Walker's camera, suggesting it was his next target.
For months he denied owning the guns, stealing the car and committing the robberies. But federal prosecutors had no trouble building a case; in fact, they didn't even need to pursue charges for shooting at the deputies or the Ohio Domino's pizza shooting.
Walker pleaded guilty and agreed to a deal, but later tried to renege. Prosecutors wouldn't let him out of the plea bargain. Neither would the judge.
Awaiting sentencing, he complained endlessly that his civil rights were violated. He never would discuss his crimes or take any responsibility.
He fired his first attorney and wanted to fire his second. He accused both his judge and his psychiatrist of doctoring court records against him.
Walker's talent at robbing fast food restaurants didn't do him much good in the legal system. His intimidation and manipulation, which had worked so well with his crew of robbers, weren't working here. He was getting nowhere except closer to prison.
Late last year, when he was about to be sentenced, Walker attempted suicide. The sentencing was postponed.
He later laughed about the suicide attempt, saying that he, not the court, would determine whether he would serve his sentence. He also feigned a hunger strike.
If Walker hadn't been caught, he probably would have graduated beyond robbing fast food restaurants. The take was too small. During breaks between robberies, Walker was scouring the Internet learning how to make pipe bombs. He wanted to rob an armored car.
Radney thought it was just talk. But soon after Walker's arrest, a New York bomb squad contacted Marion County. Before Walker had gone to Ohio, he had left a car at his Aunt Valerie's home on Long Island.
She had dug through the trunk of the car after his nephew's arrest and, under a duffle bag, found two well-designed and workable pipe bombs.
Nasworth is still a road deputy. He's matter-of-fact when discussing the shooting and thanks God that he survived.
Marques wishes his encounter with Victor Walker had ended differently. He wished Walker would have stayed after the shooting instead of speeding off.
“I know it's a silly thing to say ... If Nasworth had been hit, I definitely would have wanted him to stay because we would have concluded it then, one way or the other,” he said.
Walker ended up in prison, but there are others to take his place, Marques warned.
“Marion County is not that little sleepy horse town that we all thought it was. It's grown,” he said. “There are a lot of bad people out there.”
Contact Fred Hiers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 352-867-4157.