Police probe Taylor’s death

Times Staff Writers

MIAMI -- As the pro football world mourned Tuesday’s death of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor from a bizarre nocturnal shooting a day earlier, homicide investigators combed through the NFL star’s troubled past and searched for a killer for whom they have neither a motive nor a description.

Taylor, 24, never regained consciousness after being airlifted Monday from his walled and gated home where an intruder had burst in at 1:45 a.m. and shot him.

Doctors at Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center informed Taylor’s family, friends and teammates that he’d lost too much blood in the first minutes after suffering a single gunshot wound to his groin that had severed the femoral artery.


“It’s a tremendously sad and unnecessary event,” family friend Richard Sharpstein said. “He was a wonderful, humble, talented young man, and had a huge life in front of him. Obviously, God had other plans.”

The break-in and shooting occurred only eight days after another intrusion at Taylor’s home, during which rooms were ransacked but nothing taken and a kitchen knife was left on a bed.

Taylor was pronounced dead at 5:30 a.m., about 28 hours after he was shot, shocking those who stood vigil at the hospital overnight who had been encouraged by reports he was responsive to medical personnel, having squeezed the hand of a nurse as he lay unconscious.

“Maybe he was trying to say goodbye or something,” Sharpstein said.

Taylor, who led the Redskins with five interceptions this season, was not with the team for Sunday’s loss at Tampa Bay because he was recovering from a sprained knee. In the NFL, it’s typical for injured players not to join teams on the road.

“This is a terrible, terrible tragedy,” Redskins owner Dan Snyder said, his voice cracking and barely audible as he spoke during a news conference at the team’s headquarters in Ashburn, Va.

Coach Joe Gibbs said the team would practice as scheduled today, after a prayer service, in preparation for a home game Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. Snyder said players would honor Taylor by wearing a patch on their jerseys and a sticker on their helmets with Taylor’s No. 21.

“I have never dealt with this,” Gibbs said. “We’re going one hour at a time here.”

Miami-Dade Police were searching for a shooting suspect but conceded in a statement that they had no description of the gunman or reliable information on the number of perpetrators involved.

“According to a preliminary investigation, it appears that the victim was shot inside the home by an intruder,” Miami-Dade Police said in a statement. “We do not have a subject description at this time.”

Police spokesman Robert Williams urged anyone with information to call the Miami-Dade CrimeStoppers hotline. He described the investigation as in very early stages, an apparent allusion to the lack of witnesses or known suspects.

Police on Monday collected fingerprints and other forensic evidence at the player’s pale-yellow ranch house surrounded by a white wall and black metal gates. Processing of that evidence was accelerated after Taylor died, transforming the case from one of a suspected break-in to a murder investigation.

Fans laid floral tributes to No. 21 outside the gates of the home he bought two years ago for $900,000 and shared with his girlfriend, Jackie Garcia, and their 18-month-old daughter, also named Jackie.

Taylor had a history of brushes with the law and had made enemies on and off the football field. Friends and colleagues told reporters that Taylor had mellowed since the birth of his daughter, although even his father alluded to his checkered reputation in a statement after the player’s death.

“Many of his fans loved him because of the way he played football. Many of his opponents feared him, the way he approached the game. Others misunderstood him, many appreciated him and his family loved him,” Pedro Taylor, police chief in the nearby small town of Florida City, said of his son.

A hard hitter described by teammates as a “beast” on the field, Taylor made the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2006 and was having an even better season this year. “What got cut short here was a career that was going to go to a lot of Pro Bowls and have a lot of fun,” Gibbs said.

And off the field, teammates said, he was becoming a leader -- one elected to a Redskins players’ committee that regularly met with Gibbs, who said he noted in Taylor “a real maturing process.”

Distrustful of reporters, Taylor seldom granted interviews. He did, however, speak at length with Washington radio station WTEM-AM in September, talking about the joy he experienced when he made his daughter laugh, how he wanted to give her life experiences different from his own, and how he did not fear death.

“You can’t be scared of death,” he said. “When that time comes, it comes. . . . You never see a person who has lived their life to the fullest. . . . I’ve been blessed. God’s looked out for me, so, I’m happy.”

Taylor didn’t always seem so content. A South Florida native and Miami All-American, Taylor quickly ran into trouble after leaving college in his junior year to play pro football. He was fined $25,000 for skipping a mandatory rookie symposium at the start of his seven-year, $18-million contract. He was cited for drunk driving later that season, although the charges were dismissed. He was fined by the NFL at least seven times for unsportsmanlike conduct and uniform violations.

In June 2005, he was arrested on felony charges for allegedly brandishing a gun after a fist fight. He pleaded no contest to misdemeanor assault and battery charges and drew a sentence of 18 months’ probation. But litigation by his purported victims continued, as did menacing confrontations. A friend who accompanied Taylor after the initial fight, Michael McFarlane, had his home in West Perrine, another South Miami suburb, sprayed with gunfire, including 15 rounds that hit Taylor’s sport utility vehicle. No suspects have been identified or arrested.

Taylor’s home was secured by a remotely operated metal gate, but police said the home’s alarm system hadn’t been activated when the intrusion occurred early Monday.

The home’s telephone land line had been cut or was malfunctioning, as Garcia told police she couldn’t get a dial tone and lost precious minutes in summoning paramedics because she had to search for her cellphone.

A couple since Taylor’s high school days at Gulliver Preparatory in Pinecrest, Fla., Taylor and Garcia were startled from sleep by the slam of a door. Garcia told police that Taylor grabbed a machete he kept under their bed for protection and left the bedroom to confront the intruder while she huddled beneath the bedding with her daughter, who slept through the commotion.

Two shots were fired, one tearing through Taylor’s inner thigh, the force of the blast knocking him back into the bedroom.

Snyder, Redskins Vice President Vinny Cerrato and running back Clinton Portis flew to Miami on Monday aboard Snyder’s plane, joining about 20 family members and friends at Jackson Memorial.

After speaking with Garcia, Cerrato told reporters he was convinced “this was a deliberate attack.”

“This is a terrible tragedy involving the loss of a young man who leaves behind many people struggling to understand it,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who added that Taylor’s memory would be honored at NFL games this weekend.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.



Sean Taylor

* Age: 24

* Free safety, Washington Redskins

* 2007 season: His five interceptions, despite sitting out two games because of injury, were tied for second most in the NFL. Considered one of the hardest hitters in the league.

* Career highlights: Selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2006.

* College: Starred at Miami for three seasons and was an All-American in 2003. Selected fifth overall by the Redskins in the 2004 NFL draft.

* High school: Led Gulliver Academy in Pinecrest, Fla., to the state Class 2A title while playing running back, defensive back and linebacker.

* Personal: Single. Had an 18-month-old daughter. He was the son of Florida City Police Chief Pedro Taylor.