Once on promising path, Hillsborough High grad charged with murder in West Tampa shooting

  • In US
  • 2022-01-20 11:00:00Z
  • By Tampa Bay Times, St. Petersburg, Fla.

TAMPA - Early one summer morning in 2020, a Florida Highway Patrol trooper found a mangled Nissan Altima at the bottom of a hill next to Interstate 4 in Tampa. Bullet holes riddled the driver's side. The driver lay beside it, a bullet wound in his hip.

A year earlier, Vakarvery Scott graduated from Hillsborough High School and had gone away to play football for a small Christian university in Illinois. Now the young man who many knew as "V-Man" was back in his hometown, and someone had opened fire on the car he was driving.

Scott recovered from the wound, but he would not get back on the path that seemed to hold so much promise. In a case eerily similar to the one that left him bleeding beside the interstate, he is accused of cutting short the life of a young woman who had a bright future of her own.

Tampa police say Scott opened fire on a car in Tampa's West Riverfront neighborhood in December, hitting Savannah Mathis as she drove down the street. The 21-year-old aspiring nurse was killed. Her 19-year-old sister was also shot and survived. Prosecutors have filed murder and assault charges against Scott, 20.

After the shooting came familiar calls for the community to end gun violence, for parents to get more involved in the lives of kids to keep them from picking up guns. But as news of Scott's arrest hit social media, people who knew him expressed shock and dismay. They remembered "V-Man" as a quiet, respectful kid raised by an attentive family.

"When I saw him on the news, I thought, that's not him," said Charles Simmons, a youth football coach who has known Scott and his family for years.

Scott didn't stay in college, and after returning to Tampa was arrested on progressively more serious charges, records show. An arrest report details the evidence that led to him being charged in the Mathis sisters' shooting, a case that could send him to prison for the rest of his life.

From Christian university to Tampa arrests

Scott was still being held in the Hillsborough County jail this week with bail set at $500,000. He has hired private attorneys to represent him. One of them, Frank de la Grana, declined to comment on the case but said Scott has "a very supportive mother and father." De la Grana said the parents had no comment for this story.

"To be charged with what he's charged with seems totally out of character," de la Grana said.

Scott played for the Jaguars in the Tampa Bay Youth Football League, a community organization for players 4 to 14. Charles Simmons coached the team when Scott was about eight years old and got to know the teen's family. Scott's sister was a cheerleader for the team and his mother coached that squad.

"His family is close-knit, they do support each other in every way," Simmons said.

Andrea McCloud's son played with Scott on the Jaguars team and the boys attended Hillsborough High at the same time.

"His mother was very attentive in his life, she's always been there," McCloud said. "She handled her business with her son."

Scott attended Spoto and Middleton high schools and in 2019 graduated from Hillsborough High, where he played baseball and football.

That fall, he started at Trinity International University, a private school in Deerfield, Ill., affiliated with the Evangelical Free Church of America. Scott played defensive back for the football team.

It's unclear if Scott went back to Trinity for a second semester, but records show he started getting into trouble in Tampa in 2020. The first run-ins with police were not the kind that could derail a life: a civil citation for marijuana possession in March, then a misdemeanor shoplifting arrest in a Tampa Wal-Mart that same month.

About three months later, Scott was driving west on I-4 near 21st Street about 3 a.m. when at least one person opened fire on the Nissan Altima he was driving, according to a Highway Patrol report. The car was registered to his mother.

One of the rounds pierced the driver door and hit Scott in his hip. He lost control and the Altima veered off the road, striking a light pole and two palm trees. A man who had been riding with Scott left in another car that showed up to the scene before troopers could get his name and interview him, the report says.

At the hospital, Scott told troopers he saw a black four-door pull up on his left side, and then he heard gunshots. He said he couldn't see who shot him.

Scott identified the passenger with him at the time as "Bam" and said they didn't have any altercations with anyone recently. He said Bam had been shot about seven months earlier.

Scott said he'd known Bam for a long time and went to high school with him, but claimed he didn't know Bam's real name and gave only a general description of where he lived. Troopers showed Scott a picture of the man they believed to be Bam and Scott said it wasn't him. The report calls Scott "uncooperative" in identifying his passenger.

The Highway Patrol closed the investigation without making any arrests.

In February, Scott was arrested on his first felony charge after the car he was riding in was stopped by police on Arch Street in West Tampa, not far from where the Mathis sisters would be shot. Police found a loaded Glock pistol in Scott's waistband and 45 grams of marijuana in 11 baggies in his pocket, court records say. He was arrested on charges of carrying a concealed firearm and marijuana possession with the intent to sell or distribute.

In April, Scott was again a passenger in a car stopped in West Tampa, not far from the location of the February traffic stop. Police found about 35 grams of marijuana in his pocket, a felony amount. His listed address at the time was in Tampa's now-shuttered Robles Park Village housing complex and his occupation was listed as "vacuums cars."

The following month, the State Attorney's Office filed a notice of declining to file charges in the case and Scott was released from jail. In September, he pleaded guilty to the gun and drug charges from the February arrest and a judge withheld adjudication. He was sentenced to the 23 days he'd already spent in jail.

Scott now had two felony arrests on his record but had avoided a felony conviction.

Evidence in a murder case

A Plant High School graduate, Savannah Mathis was taking nursing classes at Hillsborough Community College and was looking forward to continuing her education at the University of Florida. She and her sister didn't live in the West Tampa neighborhood where they were shot, and the women's family has said they were driving in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Savannah was driving a Nissan Altima south on N Delaware Avenue near the intersection of W Grace Street, one block west of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, about 8:10 p.m. on Dec. 1 when shots rang out, her younger sister told police. The Times is not identifying the sister because she is a homicide witness.

The sister said she felt rounds hitting the car and saw someone shooting at them from an alley, according to Scott's arrest report. The sister was hit in the leg, Savannah in the head and abdomen, the report says. The Nissan crashed into a wall near the intersection.

The Mathis family removed Savannah from life support a few days later.

Video from a surveillance camera at the nearby Oakhurst Apartments showed several people in the street just before the shooting, gesturing and "taking positions of cover," Scott's arrest report says.

A person wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt can be seen in a yard of a home on Grace Street pointing a handgun. Multiple muzzle flashes are seen.

The video showed the shooter walk to a nearby carport, bend over next to a parked vehicle and head east into the Oakhurst Apartments, where he got into the back seat of a car that left the area.

Investigators found a dozen 9mm casings near the house on Grace Street and a Shadow Systems pistol with a gold barrel under a vehicle in the carport.

Shortly after the shooting, police found Alfonso Evans, 29, in an alley south of Grace Street, court documents say. Evans had a 10mm pistol and investigators found four spent 10mm shell casings in the alley. They arrested him on a charge of shooting at or into a vehicle.

Evans told police he shot at the Mathis sisters' car from the alley because he heard gunshots and thought someone had fired from the car, Scott's arrest report says. He watched the surveillance video and said he knew the person who opened fire by the nickname "Blue Eye." He was shown Scott's photo and said he thought it was the same person.

Another witness told police Scott was the person seen getting into the car in the Oakhurst Apartments, and that Scott had talked about hiding an expensive gun with a gold tip. Investigators found one of Scott's fingerprints near the car's gas tank door. Records subpoenaed by investigators show Scott's phone was in the area at the time of the shooting.

Ballistics tests showed that the rounds recovered from Savannah Mathis' body were fired from the Shadow Systems 9mm found in the carport, the report says.

Evans was released two days after his arrest after posting $7,500 bail. He is being represented by the Hillsborough Public Defender's Office, which does not comment on pending cases.

Police arrested Scott on Dec. 12 on charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and shooting at or into a vehicle. The murder charge carries a minimum sentence of 25 years in prison.

Rumors are circulating on social media that Scott opened fire on the Mathis sisters' car because he thought it was carrying members of a rival crew about to do a drive-by shooting. A Tampa police spokesperson said the investigation is active and declined to answer questions about the case.

LaMaria Smith, the Mathis sisters' mother, declined to comment for this story. Speaking at a candlelight vigil held about a week and a half before Scott's arrest, Smith urged whomever shot her daughters to turn themselves in. In a clip included in a WFTS-TV story, she said she was "at peace" and wasn't mad at the shooter.

"I feel sorry for you," Smith said, "and I pray God forgives you one day like I have."


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