Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Joke May Have Triggered Shooting

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Joke May Have Triggered Shooting

Article excerpt

NOKOMIS: Friends of slain bar patron say suspect also threatened them


An untimely joke may have been the spark that set off a customer who shot a stranger dead at an Osprey hotel tiki bar last week as at least four people watched in horror and were then threatened themselves.

One of those who witnessed the killing at close range was the victim's girlfriend, who tried to help her boyfriend after he was shot in the head. But she was warned away by the gunman, who threatened to kill her if she disobeyed, according to new records released Tuesday.

In all, four customers and a bartender say they either saw the murder of 48-year-old Philippe A. Nahon of Sarasota at the Bentley's Resort Hotel tiki bar, or heard the gunshot and saw the victim collapse, the records show.

Each of the four customers told sheriff's detectives that Michael Rice, 23, of Seneca, S.C., also threatened them with his semiautomatic handgun after suddenly shooting Nahon, a popular pool salesman and Riverview High School graduate who lived in Sarasota for 35 years.

A Nokomis man who was at the bar but not with Nahon's group says Rice also turned the gun on him. He thinks Nahon told a joke that Rice resented.

"The victim must have said something to him," he told investigators. "He (Rice) did not like what the joke was about. That's all I basically know."

A 57-year-old friend of Nahon who witnessed the shooting but asked not to be identified told detectives that as she moved to gather her belongings, including her cellphone, Rice said: "Don't call anyone or I'll shoot you."

The woman said she, her 59-year-old boyfriend, Nahon and Nahon's 46-year-old girlfriend were at Bentley's Resort Hotel, 1660 S. Tamiami Trail, on the afternoon of May 26 because it is a favorite drinking spot.

"He held the gun at all of us and told us to get back," she said.

That woman and other witnesses are unsure of what motivated Rice to kill Nahon, though they know the two briefly exchanged words.

Laurent Nahon, the victim's brother, was in New York when the shooting happened. He said he is under the impression that "there was no argument, fight or punch thrown -- just two sentences by two individuals. …

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