Remembering the victims of the Winn Dixie firebombing 30 years ago

Ferry is serving 5 life terms in jail

CLAIR MEL CITY, Fla. - It was 30 years ago today, a man named Billy Ferry walked into a Winn Dixie Supermarket in Clair Mel City and doused several employees and customers with gasoline and set them on fire.

In the end, 18 people suffered burns and 5 people died.  It was one of Tampa Bay's most horrific crimes. 

One of the victims, Leigh Ann Carter, was a cashier at the Winn Dixie.  Her brother, David Carter, says she was singled out because Ferry thought she was a cashier he had threatened a few days earlier.

"Billy Ferry walked into the store with a paint bucket of gasoline and threw it directly on my sister's back."

Deputies told Carter that Ferry was a vagrant who would come to the store nearly every day.  About a week before the bombing, he became upset because the store would not give him his money back for some food he bought, which he claimed was spoiled. He told one of the cashiers that he was going to firebomb the store.  Carter says the cashier told her bosses about the threat, but they did not take the threat seriously. From the back, Carter said, his sister looked like the cashier that Ferry had threatened and that's why she was singled out.

Carter says his sister normally worked at the Winn Dixie in Brandon, but she was asked to work at the store in Clair Mel for the holiday weekend.  According to Carter, Leigh Ann had a premonition that something bad was going to happen at that store.  She even took her brother David and a friend by the store a few days before, just to look at where she was going to work. 

She told her brother "I have a bad feeling I am going to die at that store." Her friend told her not to go, but Leigh Ann spoke to her dad and he told her to deal with her fears and try to get through it. "He convinced her to go and always regretted it," said Carter.  "He never got over it, even until the day he died," said Carter.

Leigh Ann Carter is buried outside of Atlanta, near the place where her brother David currently lives.

23-year-old Martha Vance and her 4-year-old daughter Jennifer; Melody Darlington and her 16-year-old niece, Misty McCullough, are among the other victims.

Ferry, who had mental problems, claimed he was bombing a Soviet command bunker.  The jury did not believe his insanity defense and he was found guilty.

He is currently serving five consecutive life terms at the Union Correctional Institute in Raiford, Fla.

For many, the incident 30 years ago has faded in memory but Carter says "It was a tragedy and the lives lost are important and the people of Tampa should remember. "

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