Lexington stabbing death: Two suburban lives intersect in violence

cclick@thestate.com, dhinshaw@thestate.comFebruary 22, 2014 

In the teen movie script with a happy ending, Kierin Dennis and Da’Von Capers would have met in the parking lot of a popular hangout, talked trash about their rival sports teams, revved their car engines, then roared home, gravel flying.

But the real-life scenario was far more grim.

By the time police got to him Monday night, Capers, 17, a high school senior with a grin his Spanish teacher said would “light up his whole face,” was bleeding to death from a stab wound to the chest.

Dennis, an 18-year-old high school graduate who once traveled to Haiti on a mission trip, would be arrested the next day at his parents’ home. He remains behind bars at the Lexington County jail.

Exactly how the lives of two suburban teenagers from nice neighborhoods and good schools intersected amid taunts and a fatal thrust of a knife will unfold in the ongoing police investigation.

For the larger community, the question remains: Why?

What is known is this: Dutch Fork High School, where Capers played football, traveled to play at rival Lexington High School, Dennis’ alma mater, in a fierce 50-45 basketball game Monday night, a game delayed by the previous week’s snowstorm.

Tensions ran so high that police escorted the two teams and fans through separate doors at opposite sides of the gym at the end of the game.

Once off the Lexington High campus, some students met at the popular Cook Out eatery on Lexington’s West Main Street, where a growing contingent of rowdy fans from both schools prompted a customer riding through the drive-thru to call police.

By the time Lexington police arrived at the restaurant at 9:47 p.m., a bleeding and unconscious Capers already had been rushed by friends to a nearby Urgent Care, where nurses and a doctor worked to stabilize the teenager before transporting him to Lexington Medical Center. He died later that night.

The suspect was identified by students not by name but as a black male with black dreadlocks tipped in brown, driving a tan Ford Explorer. The truck had left the parking lot after the incident, they said.

Dennis was arrested the following morning at his home in the Persimmon Grove neighborhood, a subdivision off Barr Road in Lexington, where new homes are still under construction.

Streets there, with tidy two-story homes and well-tended yards, radiate out from a pond distinguished by a picturesque fishing pier and gazebo within walking distance of Dennis’ home.

Neighbors offered mixed assessments of the young man now in custody.

“He’s got a bad attitude,” said Sean Penrod, who lives behind the Dennis residence in a home he shares with his mother. He recalled loud music and gatherings of youths that spilled out beyond the family’s yard and onto the streets.

“They tried to avoid me because they knew I was watching them,” Penrod said of Dennis and his friends.

Neighbors at two other homes offered a different perspective, describing a friendly teenager always quick with a wave who came from a good, Christian family.

A former boss at the Burger King restaurant on Longs Pond Road, where Dennis worked in high school, described him as a young man with a sweet temperament who expressed an interest in going to college.

“He was an outgoing person,” manager Misty Earhart said Friday. “He could joke around with anybody but he could also be serious.”

She said she was stunned by the allegations against Dennis.

But late Thursday afternoon, police – allegedly following instructions from the jailed Dennis – arrived in Persimmon Grove in search of the knife used in the crime.

It was buried in the Penrods’ back yard.

“I went to the bedroom to check on my cats and here are five policemen digging in my back yard,” Donna Penrod said. “It was almost under my bedroom window.”

A playful heart

At school, everyone called Da’Von Capers by his nickname, “Cape,” English teacher Allison Norwood said.

He was polite, upbeat and very social.

“I never saw Cape alone. He was always with friends,” Norwood said. “Even my students who said they didn’t know Cape said they never heard a bad thing about him, and never saw him when he wasn’t smiling.”

Another teacher wrote about his playfulness when signing the online guestbook provided by Leevy’s Funeral Home.

“I taught Cape three years ago and he would make me smile when I saw that grin of his that would light up his whole face,” Axa Carnes of Irmo said. “In class he would try to hide from me so that I wouldn’t call on him to speak in Spanish. It didn’t work because I had him sitting in the front row.”

Capers played football for Dutch Fork High in the fall. He was a middle linebacker. But he left the team before the season ended, said Will Davis, a former teammate who graduated last year.

“He was pretty mellow, calm,” Davis recalled. “He was playful. He was joyful.”

After school, Capers had a part-time job at the Governor’s Mansion alongside his big brother, Byron, a mansion assistant. Da’Von Capers worked as a steward/server, said the governor’s press secretary, Doug Mayer.

Gov. Nikki Haley said she and her family were “devastated” by the news of Da’Von’s death. They visited the Capers family at their suburban home in Irmo last week.

“Mr. and Mrs. Capers are wonderful parents and raised three responsible, respectful children,” the governor said in a statement. “We are blessed to have them as a part of our family.”

Capers’ violent death seemed to break everyone’s heart.

Dutch Fork students mourned the loss by signing a No. 48 jersey and wearing Cape’s number at school events last week.

“Just yesterday, I was holding up a 230-pound, 6-foot-tall football player, sobbing and wailing,” Norwood, the English teacher, said. “It’s just been horrible.”

“He had that personality that drew people to him,” she said. “He was going to have good things ahead.”

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