BCHS senior was in group drawn by fight
A Baker County High School senior is dead and a Macclenny man is in jail without bond following a fatal confrontation in a west city neighborhood the evening of April 11th. Michael Washington, 19, is charged with running down Rasbard Belford, 18, with his
car following a fight at the corner of MLK Dr. and Minnesota Ave. about 8:15.
Witnesses told police Mr. Washington got into a 2001 Chevrolet sedan parked in his yard at the intersection and aimed it for another person, who intervened in the fight involving the suspect’s sisters.
Instead, he ran over Mr. Belford and the vehicle dragged him underneath as Mr. Washington did not heed others in the immediate vicinity and continued to drive in circles with the victim still under the car.
When Deputy Earl Lord arrived at the scene minutes later, the victim was lying on the pavement of MLK. He was flown to Shands Jacksonville where he later died.
Mr. Belford had cerebral palsy and a stroke in early life that affected his right arm and caused him to walk with a limp.
Witness Laconda Ruise, 36, who lives nearby, told police Mr. Washington was aiming for her son Kevohntae Hadley, 18, who
moments before got involved in the nearby fight on behalf of his sister, age 16. The melee also involved Mr. Washington’s sisters,
ages 16 and 17. They were fighting over a boy. The sisters told Deputy Lord their brother was only attempting to move their mother’s car out of the yard when be struck Mr. Belford with the right front. Ms. Ruise said the accused continued to attempt
running down her son even after Mr. Belford’s body broke loose from the undercarriage. Mr. Washington then drove the Chevrolet back onto his mother’s property and ran inside her trailer. He later surrendered without incident.
Pending an investigation by the Florida Highway Patrol, he is charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He
reportedly told police he did not realize he had struck Mr. Belford, who was standing on the sidewalk west of MLK and was
one of dozens of persons who gathered in the vicinity when fight broke out. Mr. Washington made a first appearance in court early Tuesday afternoon, and is on felony probation which was violated later that day.
He was arrested last year for Battery on a county deputy during a disturbance in the same neighborhood, and pleaded to a reduced charge of resisting arrest. About 24 hours after the tragedy, a prayer vigil was organized at the street and under a massive oak tree.
Among the attendees were the victim’s parents Bo and Diane Belford. Tarrece Givins, chairman of Baker County Pastors’ and Ministers’ Council, spearheaded the vigil to call attention to the violent and unnecessary death and to, in his words, “Pray Satan ot of Baker County.” Sheriff Joey Dobson called for healing and change also. “We’re here to protect you, but we can’t raise your children for you. That must begin at home. Calm heads are what we need to proceed with now. Let’s not let the event fuel any further tragedies,” he said.
KellyWilliams, one in the team special ed teachers at Baker County High School who worked closely with Mr. Belford, was saddened at the young man’s loss. “he was a lovable, outgoing, outspoken and he didn’t let his handicap stop him. His presence in the classroom will be greatly missed,” Mr. Williams said. Mr. Williams admired Mr. Belford for his positive approach to obstacles and his ability to make other students laugh. “His dream was to be an athlete, especially a Wildcat,” he said.
Rev. Givens admired Rashard for another reason. As soon as he received the tragic news of the young man’s death, he began scrambling to put the prayer vigil together. “Rashard greatly made an impact on me two weeks ago when we held our community empowerment rally,” he said. “No one asked him, but he simply showed up wanting to help. Even with his handicap he was out the setting up tents and chairs and then helping break everything down when it was over.”
Billy Lee, who with wife Eddie Mae Fields, raised Rahard, lamented the fact that it was only himself and his wife now. “He had a stroke when he was little, he couldn’t use hand and he had a limp but he never let that stop him from doing anything,” Mr. Lee said.
The victims uncle James Rollins, who lives in Jacksonville, remembers getting the terrible phone call. “My brother told me someone had run over Roly Poly [Rashard’s nick name], they were life-flighting him to Shands, but he probably wouldn’t make it.” he said, “I couldn’t believe it. He just couldn’t move fast enough like the other who were out there, he couldn’t get out of the way.” He shook his head and looked at the ground.
“Roly Poly, all he ever wanted to do was help you. He would give you the shirt from his back, that’s how he was.”