CANADA

March break murder for a Canadian teen

Florida officials try to reassure tourists

PAUL KAIHLA April 1 1996
CANADA

March break murder for a Canadian teen

Florida officials try to reassure tourists

PAUL KAIHLA April 1 1996

March break murder for a Canadian teen

Florida officials try to reassure tourists

The caring gesture was the kind of

thing that made Mark Fyke so loved by his family, and so popular among classmates at his high school in Belleville, Ont. Late on the night of March 16, while on a spring break vacation in Daytona Beach, Fla., Fyke slipped out of a party at his oceanfront motel to call his mother back home in Canada from a pay phone. “We were talking about what he’d been doing,” Christine Fyke, 41, told Maclean’s last week. “Then he said, ‘I gotta go, mom—I love you.’ I heard voices and thought that other kids were around who wanted to use the phone.” What Mark’s mother did not know was that her 18-yearold son and a school chum had been surrounded by six menacing youths. One of them asked Fyke for his money, and a tussle ensued when he resisted. A gun went off, and Fyke lay on the sidewalk in a pool of blood. He had been shot through the back of the head at point-blank range with a .38-calibre revolver.

A little more than 24 hours after the ugly tragedy, Daytona police arrested 18-yearold Donald William Shoup for the murder. An unemployed high-school dropout from Ormond Beach, just north of Daytona, Shoup lived in a public housing project and had a criminal record that included larceny, trespassing, battery and a 1993 committal to a psychiatric facility on the grounds that he was a danger to himself and others.

“If Mark had known there was a gun involved, things would have been different,” a shattered Christine Fyke said last week. “But I can’t say there’s a lesson to be learned from this. Mark wasn’t doing anything wrong. This was a very brutal act.” The killing eerily echoed a spate of violence that claimed the lives of nine foreign tourists in Florida in late 1992 and 1993— and it sent a ripple of anxiety through the state’s $42-billion tourism industry. “I hope people won’t be afraid to come to Daytona,” said Scott Austin, a partner in a local souvenir shop. Added Gilbert Myara, owner of a chain of Daytona shops that cater to visitors: “The Canadian spring break is getting bigger and bigger for us.”

In fact, Canadian tourism in Florida peaked in 1992. That year, a record 2.5 million Canadians visited the Sunshine State. But by 1994, that traffic had dropped to 1.7 million—the effect of a long Canadian recession, a high American dollar and heightened fear of violent crime. Since the 1993 murders, Florida has introduced several measures to im-

prove tourist safety. Among them: posting guards at freeway rest stops and removing logos and licence plates that identified rental cars. Canadian charters to Florida are up 20 per cent this year.

Last week, state officials tried to calm tourist fears. Craig Roberts, the Florida division of tourism’s representative in Canada, noted that Fyke was not targeted because he was a foreigner. “This was more of a randomviolence incident,” Roberts said. “The 1993 incidents involved following tourists from airports and things like that.” Roberts maintained that Florida has an admirable record as a safe destination, noting that out of a total 40 million visitors during the past year, only two were victims of murder. (A Dutch tourist was killed on Feb. 23 in Miami.)

Florida’s overall murder rate has declined by 4.6 per cent since 1993 to 8.3 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants (four times higher than Canada’s). But the state has witnessed an explosion of violent youth crime. In 1994, 197 youths under 18 were charged with murder, an increase of 140 per cent since 1985. Experts in juvenile crime in Florida, such as Fort Lauderdalebased circuit court Judge Larry Seidlin, say that broken homes, failure at school, and poverty are the dominant factors. “I’ve been on the bench for 18 years, and the juvenile crimes today are more bloodthirsty than ever,” Seidlin said last week in an interview. ‘We have kids at 13 who will blow a human being away for pocket change and have no emotion.”

In the Fyke case, all five of Shoup’s alleged accomplices are believed to be juveniles. Police have questioned several of them, and at the end of last week, vowed that others would be charged. Shoup, who was being held without bail until he is indicted in early April on charges of firstdegree murder and armed robbery, told investigators that the gun went off when a cohort pushed Fyke into it. If that is true, police said they would also charge that individual with murder. Shoup will receive a minimum life sentence with no possibility of parole if convicted—and could face the electric chair.

While the state prosecutor’s office had not yet decided whether to seek the death penalty, Christine Fyke was remarkably charitable on the issue. ‘Taking someone else’s life is not going to accomplish anything,” Fyke said, while surrounded in Belleville by friends, relatives and messages of support from across the country. “It will not bring my son back. That is the only thing that I would want to happen, and I know it can’t happen.”

PAUL KAIHLA