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Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Investigators: Dad bought fireworks, gas before Avila blaze

Hillsborough County sheriff's Col. Donna Lusczynski said investigators are not searching for a suspect at this point but stopped short of calling the case a murder-suicide.

“We're not going to get into theories right now,'' Lusczynski said. “We considering every option to be fair. There are a number of them on the table.''

Campbell, his wife, Kim, and their two children, 19-year-old Colin and 16-year-old Megan, have been living in the $1.6 million Avila home, owned by retired tennis star James Blake, for the past two years, authorities said. No one has been able to contact the family since the fire.

Lusczynski said the fire appears to have been set, and the arsonist used an accelerant as well. In addition, rescue workers found fireworks scattered throughout the home, she said. She said the fireworks “could have been used to ignite, keep the fire aflame.''

William Weimer, vice president of Phantom Fireworks, said Darrin Campbell purchased more than $600 worth of fireworks at a company store on East Fowler Avenue in Tampa on Sunday. The items - six packages of firecrackers and seven aerial-type fireworks - were suitable for backyard use, not commercial displays, he said.

He also said the fireworks probably wouldn't have made the fire at the 5,000-square home more destructive.

“I don't understand what the consumer fireworks would have added to the whole thing,'' he said. “People have different perceptions and it is possible Mr. Campbell thought they were a lot more powerful than they really are.''

Weimer said company surveillance video shows Campbell bought the fireworks at about 9 a.m. Sunday; company records indicate Campbell had not previously bought fireworks there before, he said.

Campbell was wearing shorts and a T-shirt and appeared relaxed in the video, Weimer said, who characterized the transaction as “unremarkable.''

Some details about Campbell are slowly emerging, though few that exhibit any obvious warning signs.

A Tampa company, VASTEC, said Campbell had been the company's chief operating officer. According to his Linked In page, he also had previously worked as an executive with Anchor Glass, PODS Inc. and IVANS Insurance Solutions.

“On behalf of all in our organization we are greatly saddened to learn the news regarding our Chief Operating Officer, Darrin Campbell, and the Campbell family,” VASTEC said in a statement. “This is a difficult time for all involved and we are trying to cope with this news. We extend our heartfelt sympathies to friends and family members during this time of grief.”

Asked if the sheriff's office is looking into whether Campbell was facing any financial issues, Lusczynski said, “That is an issue we are exploring. We are not leaving any stone unturned on this case. That is something we're certainly looking at.''

Carrollwood Day School's website lists Darrin Campbell as treasurer of the board of trustees, a volunteer position. Colin Campbell, a senior, was on the school's baseball team. Megan Campbell, was on the ninth-grade dean's honor roll in February, according to the school's website.

The school called in grief counselors to help students deal with the situation, reaching out to the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, which has its headquarters about a mile away from the school off Bearss Avenue.

“We immediately sent a trauma response team to the school to provide grief and trauma counseling to school staff and friends of the two students ...” center spokesman Ken Gibson said in a news release. “The Avila community and the school are our neighbors and we are grateful for the opportunity to be of service.”

Terri Howell, director of All American Dance Factor, where Megan Campbell took classes, said in a release Thursday that the dance studio will set up a scholarship fund to honor her memory.

“Megan was involved at our studio for the past several years and was a helpful student that always had a smile on her face, the release said. “She was especially witty and one of her teachers commented that she made him laugh every week. Megan will be greatly missed by her teachers and fellow dancers.”

Students and friends from Carrollwood Day School are also dealing with the loss online, some using the Twitter hashtags #CDSStrong and #prayforthecampbells.

“Words cannot describe my feelings right now,” wrote Max Garcia on his Twitter page @maxgar24. “Hard to believe this could happen to people you're so close to.. Praying for the Campbell's.”

“Megan Campbell was a great person and its hard to believe she'll never be back in dance class,” wrote Laura Cerkoney on the Twitter page @LauraCerkoney.

Carrollwood Day School's softball team plays in the Class 3A state softball semifinals today at Vero Beach. It's the most successful run ever by a Carrollwood Day School team. Players will wear the initials “CJC'' and “MLC'' on the left sleeves of their uniforms to honor Colin and Megan Campbell.

“The best way to honor them would be to come home with a state championship,'' CDS softball coach Chuck Fest said.

Colin Campbell was remembered as an excellent baseball player from his days at Keystone Little League through his tenure with the Tampa Tigers travel-ball to Carrollwood Days School.

“He always had a smile on his face,'' said Kevin Merrell, a friend and baseball player at Steinbrenner High. “He was always very positive.''

His baseball coaches described Colin was the model player who took well to instruction, never pouted and was always willing to play any position.

Paul Sickmon, also one of his coaches at Keystone Little League, said he's grappling with the reality of the tragedy.

“I'm heartbroken,'' Sickmon said. “I can't wrap my arms around this. I don't understand. Darrin was such a great dad. It was the perfect father and son, working together, sharing time. You could never imagine something like this happening.''

The Campbells were renting the five-bedroom, five bathroom home, at 16223 Sierra de Avila, from retired tennis pro James Blake, who was out of state when the fire occurred.

Darrin Campbell's mother, Mary, said she spoke with her son Tuesday night.

“I have no idea what happened,” she said in a story by the New York Daily News. “I spoke to him last night.”

Mary Campbell said her son knew Blake and had been renting his home for the past two years.

“He was my baby,” she told the newspaper from her home in Arizona. “I have seven kids and he was the youngest. He called me every single day. I'm out in Tucson, and he wanted to make sure I was taken care of.”

Kim Campbell's father, Gordon Lambie, said the family was close-knit and successful. Darrin and Kimberly Campbell met in Michigan, where they worked as aides in the state legislature. Kimberly Campbell, who had been a stay-at-home mother, graduated from Central Michigan University and Darrin Campbell had an MBA from the University of Michigan, Lambie said.

They sold their previous Tampa home but wanted to live in a place close to their children's school, so in 2012 they signed a two-year lease for Blake's home, Lambie said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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