THE BLADE/LORI KING Enlarge | Buy This Photo
JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge
THE BLADE/LORI KING Enlarge | Buy This Photo
THE BLADE/LORI KING Enlarge | Buy This Photo
When Danny Fleenor stepped into the fog after midnight for his short walk home, the 17-year-old turned back one last time toward his two friends.
Relaxing on a set of stairs inside the front doors of a North Toledo duplex, Robert Jobe, 15, and Sherman Powell, 19, were sharing a dirty bottle of whiskey.
A typical night, the teen said.
Hours earlier, Danny had someone buy him a Bud Ice at a nearby carryout. He was passing time on the sidewalk on Bush Street when Robert, known in the neighborhood as Bobby White, strolled up.
The two teens had known each other for years, going back to when Bobby, who grew up in rural Williams County, was still called Bobby Joe.
These days in North Toledo they wore matching Nikes, shared Newport cigarettes, and called each other brother.
He comes up. He s like, You all right, Bro? ... Come chill with me, Danny recalled in an interview with The Blade last week.
They slipped into Mr. Powell s nearby apartment and spent the next hour or so sharing a bottle of whiskey Bobby and Danny bought from a woman they knew from the street. I think she wanted $20 for it. I think he gave her 15 [dollars], Danny said.
They drank and talked, downloading gangster rap by Lil Boosie.
Mr. Powell, also known as Cass, pulled out a 9mm handgun, Danny said: We was in the computer room. We was burning CDs. He just pulled it out like, Look what I got.
I didn t react, he said, [They re] my friends. It s not like they re going to shoot me.
After midnight on Feb. 21 as fog gathered outside Danny said he saw Bobby take an Ecstasy pill.
The illegal drug is known for bringing on feelings of intense pleasure and enhanced self-confidence and energy.
Danny said he decided to call it a night.
I always go home when I m drunk, he said.
Bobby and Cass said they were going to wait for a friend to join them.
They s like, Be cool, stay safe walkin home, Danny recalled. They were sitting in the hallway, seeing who walk by and stuff.
Three friends all high school dropouts.
Alcohol. Ecstasy. A gun. Lyrics from a CD called Bad Azz.
Danny shrugged at the memory during an interview outside his Magnolia Street house last week. Nothing about that night had registered as anything different.
It was, he said, just a night.
It was also a typical night for vice-narcotics Detective Keith Dressel and his partners. Just before 2 a.m., the three officers pulled up to two young men in the 1400 block of Ontario Street.
Suspicious, the officers confronted the two, who then split up and ran into the fog. Two detectives tackled Cass.
Detective Dressel ran after Bobby. A struggle ensued, and police say the teen fired a .38-caliber handgun once.
The dying detective fired his gun six times, bullets crashing into cars and houses nearby, as his partners ran to his aid.
Todd, he told one, I ve been shot.
A family history
In the most northwestern corner of Ohio, where Williams County is laid out by a grid of quiet county roads that mark perfect rectangles of farm fields and pastures, Nettle Lake is a collection of modest homes and trailers crammed around the water s edge.
It was here that Clarence and Diane Jobe moved in 1995, with their son Bobby Joe, who was just a toddler.
It was to be a new start. Fifteen years earlier, Clarence had used a .38-caliber handgun in an attempt to abduct two women from a Van Wert bar parking lot. One of the women ran. He shot at her but missed.
Convicted of abduction and for breaking into a car dealership a day earlier, he was sent to prison for six years and released in 1986.
Diane, who has declined repeated requests for an interview by The Blade since her son was charged with aggravated murder in the shooting death of Detective Dressel, has a criminal record herself. Twice officers charged her with selling marijuana, in 1991, and again in 1994 with her husband.
She was found guilty of the trafficking charge in 1991, but pregnant with Bobby, she avoided jail time and was given probation.
Pioneer Police Chief Judy Lineberger said she remembers Diane well. She was under investigation by a five-county Multi Area Narcotics Task Force when an officer suggested that any charges against her might be reduced if she provided information on others.
She refused, said Chief Lineberger, instead cursing at the officers.
After that, the chief said, there s not much to say.
Ultimately, charges in the 1994 drug case against Diane were dropped. Clarence was convicted and put on probation.
Back in Nettle Lake
By some accounts, Robert Jobe is described as having a happy childhood skiing the lake, constructing forts with plywood and old carpet, and pitching tents in the backyard with his friends.
We re NASCAR and country music, said Anna Stamper, a teenage friend.
Bobby s manners were impeccable, punctuated with sir and ma am, said longtime Nettle Lake resident Rita Brown.
Ms. Brown is the cashier at Stoney s convenience store, where motor oil, beer, and wax worms are hot sellers. It s one of the only Nettle Lake businesses around part grocery store and gas station, part meeting place and the chatter around the pizza case recently has been about the stone-faced teenager residents saw flashed across their television screens.
It was a teenage Robert Jobe in handcuffs.
You d never dream this, Ms. Brown said. You see this kid and you think, How did this kid grow up? How did this happen? Guess what he didn t grow up that way.
Still, she concedes, lake residents knew too well about the police calls to the Jobes modest, two-bedroom home at 150 Biscayne Blvd.
On Feb. 7, 1999 on Bobby s seventh birthday he dialed 911. His father, he told the dispatcher, was threatening his mother with a baseball bat.
Crews found a bat in the kitchen, and Clarence admitted that he and Diane were fighting over money. Both refused to file charges, wrote a deputy, who also noted a light odor of marijuana.
A month later, deputies returned after Diane claimed Clarence threatened to burn the house down if she tried to make him leave.
On Jan. 18, 2000, Bobby s teenage brother, Chad, called 911.
Deputies found the home in even more disarray than usual. A bathroom door was broken, and Diane had welts and redness on her face, neck, and wrist.
Clarence had punched her, thrown her onto a bed, and choked her. Bobby, then 9, tried to intervene but was thrown against a wall.
Deputies confiscated a 9mm handgun from the house and Bobby s parents were placed on probation for five years.
There were other domestic disputes and other charges against Clarence.
He was found by deputies passed out, intoxicated, in the middle of a road. He passed several bad checks. He threatened a neighbor.
We were up there quite a bit, Williams County Sheriff s Lt. Ryan Baird said, describing the Jobes as the type of family [where violence] seems kind of second nature.
It was the kind of news that kept the people of Nettle Lake talking but keeping their distance too, said Ms. Brown, at Stoney s convenience store.
You don t step in too far because you ll live hell in the lake for a while, she said.
As long as Bobby was OK, she said, neighbors knew the unspoken rule: Don t step in. It s too cramped here to get into each other s business too heavy.
A time of loss, change
On March 20, 2002, state troopers arrested Clarence and a 25-year-old Montpelier man after finding cocaine residue and two crack pipes in their car on the Ohio Turnpike. Both said they were heading to Toledo to party.
By this time, the Jobe marriage was long over. Diane and Bobby had moved away, and Clarence had moved to a tiny trailer on the other side of Nettle Lake.
He d never face the drug paraphernalia charge and many others.
Two weeks after the arrest he was found dead in his trailer on April 3, 2002.
No autopsy was conducted, but a coroner told a deputy that Clarence, a longtime diabetic, had an unbelievable blood sugar level and ruled his death natural.
Clarence s funeral in Montpelier was the last time the Jobes family friends, Jan and Todd Price, saw young Bobby.
Once neighbors at the Pioneer Mobile Home Court off State Street, the Prices and Jobes played euchre for years. The men fished together. Clarence wanted Mr. Price to be Bobby s godfather. He agreed.
When Diane said she was moving to Toledo with Bobby, her friend begged her to reconsider.
Mrs. Price heard too many stories of Toledo gangs and violence, she said. She offered to keep Bobby with her.
This is country living out here, Mrs. Price said. Kids don t have anything to do after 8 o clock at night.
Two weeks ago, Mrs. Price sat down to type out a letter, struggling with what to say to Bobby, now locked up at a downtown jail the Lucas County Juvenile Justice Center.
I am not sure that there is anything that we can do for you now, and I could just kick myself in the butt for not hounding your Mom to let you live with us until you were out of school, Mrs. Price wrote to the teen.
She was praying for Detective Dressel, his young wife, and his children, she wrote. And for Bobby.
On Thursday, as winds whipped across the fields and around her house, Mrs. Price pulled from her mailbox a thick wad of mail. In the middle was an envelope with her address on it written in thick marker it was from Bobby.
I thank you for praying for me and Officer Dressel s family, the teenager wrote. I have been praying for them too.
Mrs. Price cupped her hand over her mouth.
Tears came fast, cascading over her fingertips.
She cried for the boy she knows as Bobby Joe, who faces the rest of his life behind bars. She cried for the young officer shot dead for doing his job, and for his young widow and fatherless children.
It s about [Bobby] being out at 2 o clock in the morning. It s about the bad choices My heart aches now.
After moving to North Toledo about five years ago, Robert Jobe was a kid straddling two worlds. He was still Bobby Joe when he visited Nettle Lake, but his friends in Toledo began calling him Bobby White.
Sometimes Bobby would take his Toledo friend, Danny, with him to visit relatives in Defiance County. But after awhile, Danny said, there s only so much time you can spend on the computer or playing Uno.
At Nettle Lake, longtime friend Dustin Shelton was equally unimpressed when he visited Bobby in what he remembered as a noisy and crowded North Toledo.
I thought it was weird, said the 16-year-old. He lived in an apartment. There were people upstairs. Here, it s like everyone knows everyone. There, it was like, Don t go down this street or that street.
When Bobby visited Nettle Lake, conversations often ended on the same note: He always said he wanted to move here, Dustin said.
In the past few years, Bobby began skipping school. His mother transferred him to a couple different schools. Eventually, he just stopped going at all.
The change was profound over the last year from the oversized pants he d started to wear, to the language he used, to the way he walked, said his former Nettle Lake friends. He acted, one said, like a thug.
Trouble with the law
Back in North Toledo, Bobby was hanging with an older crowd. He d smoked marijuana, but now he used Ecstasy, Danny said.
Bobby also was attracting the attention of local police crews. Over an eight-month period, he was arrested at least four times.
Officers caught him coming out of a drug house. He ran.
They caught him inside a home with a crack pipe and with a joint inside his ball cap. He was high.
Placed on house arrest last summer, he cut off his electronic monitor and ran.
Finally, he was ordered into the Lucas County Juvenile Drug Treatment Court, an intensive program that requires participants to submit to regular drug tests and weekly court hearings.
But on Dec. 29, Toledo Police Officers Eric Sweat and Erik Welling responded to Bush and Erie streets on a call of a person firing a gun into the air.
They found Bobby inside the Bush Quick Stop Carryout and spotted the handle of a loaded .22-caliber handgun in a box nearby. The gun was cheap, old, and held together with a lollipop stick, Officer Welling said.
Bobby gave them a false name, then struggled when they tried to place him in handcuffs.
The strength of the skinny kid was surprising. He s a very, very strong kid, Officer Welling said. He fought like a man.
He was convicted of misdemeanor carrying a concealed weapon.
Waiting outside the store that night, Danny also was arrested. He was charged with violating curfew.
No harm intended
Last week, Danny told The Blade that both he and Bobby were easygoing and not out to harm anyone, even when they were drunk or high.
When a reporter approached Danny on Bush Street near his home, a group of young people nearby began cursing at him. One man yelled Snitch! followed by a string of profanities.
Danny said it s important that the public know another side of Bobby White, now defined at least in the public s mind as a cop-killer.
Danny s father, Freddie Fleenor, agreed.
Mr. Fleenor said it s too easy to blame one thing for the shooting the kid, his mother, drugs, guns, alcohol, the system, whatever.
It s also too easy to simplify the story, he said.
It s sad for [Detective Dressel s] wife. It s sad for those kids growing up without a dad. But you can t put a baby away for life. That ain t right either, Mr. Fleenor said.
Recently, Bobby wrote a letter to his friend Danny from jail. Like the letter to Mrs. Price at Nettle Lake, it was one page, written with a marker.
The 15-year-old accused of aggravated murder called himself a survivor, writing: It s in my Blood ya know. hopefully I get rehabilitated so I get tried as a juvi so I can change my life around and move once I get out of here.
Blade staff writer Christina Hall contributed to this report.
Contact Robin Erb at:firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6133.