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Man slain in central Toledo; family says victim was trying to change, have better life

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    Tiffany Smith, left, and Marsia Hampton visit a memorial to Darrin Smith near the location on Grand Avenue where he was shot and killed during an argument Saturday night.

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    Darrin Smith's mother, Sharon Henley, cried as she recounts arriving at the scene where her son was shot. She says her son and his accused killer had known each other for some time.<br> <img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/assets/gif/weblink_icon.gif> <font color=red><b>COMMENT</b></font>: <a href=" http://tol.bz/9CvDSj"target="_blank"><b>on The Blade's Facebook page</b></a>

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Darrin Smith wanted to turn his life around.

The 20-year-old Toledoan, shot to death Saturday night just doors from his house in the 1300 block of Grand Ave., had just earned his high-school equivalency degree and was making plans for college, family members said Sunday.

Smith had two felony convictions - one for drug possession, one for attempted burglary - and recently had spent a month under house arrest for a parole violation. That gave him time to think about his life and make bigger plans, his younger sister, Beverly Henley, said.

"He just basically thought through stuff while he was [at home] and thought, 'I need to do better,'•" Ms. Henley said amid tears yesterday as she sat in her mother's house a few blocks away from where Smith was killed. "He was going to change."

Those good intentions never got a chance to bear fruit, however. Late on Saturday night, Smith got into an argument with a neighbor, 18-year-old Michael Taylor III. According to police reports, the dispute ended when Taylor pulled a gun on Smith, hitting him at least twice and leaving him dying in the street.

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Smith was taken to Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

Taylor turned himself in to police yesterday morning. He was booked into the Lucas County jail on a murder charge.

His arraignment is set for this morning.

Smith's untimely death was a dramatic finale to what family and neighbors described as a long-time friendship between the two men. Both Smith and Taylor lived on the same street and had known each other since they were teenagers, often spending time at each other's houses.

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Tiffany Smith, left, and Marsia Hampton visit a memorial to Darrin Smith near the location on Grand Avenue where he was shot and killed during an argument Saturday night.

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"They've known each other since they were 16, 17 years old," Smith's mother, Sharon Henley, said. "A couple of days ago, they were sitting on [Smith's] grandma's porch together."

But tensions had been on the rise in the neighborhood. Several friends of Smith who gathered yesterday close to the spot where he was killed said Taylor - who went by the nickname "Man" - was known to practice shooting his gun in the overgrown yard next to his house.

He'd been shooting for months on an almost daily basis, prompting neighbors to call police on several occasions, they said. One neighbor, Michelle Williams, said Taylor had even shot at her house a few doors down last summer.

"Dangerous should be the word. We never knew what was going to be next," neighbor Leza Dukesa said of Taylor. About Saturday's shooting, she added: "We were not shocked, let's put it that way."

Smith's sister, 19-year-old Ms. Henley, said Taylor associated with a group of people who frequently got into fights and shot pistols.

Toledo officials investigating the shooting remained mum yesterday on a possible motive for the killing. But Detective Jeff Clark said he did not believe the crime was gang or drug-related.

"I have no reason to believe that that's the case at this time," Detective Clark said.

The detective said Taylor made a brief statement to police when he turned himself in, but denied involvement in Smith's killing.

Taylor's father, Mike Taylor, Sr., also questioned whether his son was guilty in the shooting.

"I can't feel bad about him having done it because I'm not sure if he did do it," Mr. Taylor said, as he left the house on Grand Avenue where his son lives.

At the crime scene yesterday, neighbors strung up balloons, stuffed animals, and cardboard signs scrawled with messages of condolence. A group of Smith's friends recalled the 20-year-old as a popular young man who often played football and basketball with kids in the neighborhood and looked out for them.

"He was very well-known by all the kids over here," said Ms. Williams, who has two young children. "He was loved by the kids."

At her home, Smith's mother, who works as a nurse at Heatherdowns Rehabilitation and Residential Care Center, cried as she recounted arriving at the scene of her son's death. She complained she and other family members had not been able to see Smith at the hospital.

"They never let me see my son," Ms. Smith wailed. "The last time I saw my son, he was laying on the ground in the rain."

A spokesman for Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center, Sarah Velliquette, said it is standard procedure in homicide cases to prohibit family members from seeing the body.

"The body is considered evidence," Ms. Velliquette said. "It's tough, but that's why."

Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at:

cbarrett@theblade.com

or 419-724-6272.

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