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Domestic Violence Shatters St. Mary's

County's Only Slayings This Year Involved Fighting Couples, Authorities Say

By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 5, 2004; Page C07

Darlene Dowsey kept the newspaper articles about Ayanna LaChay Taylor, whose longtime boyfriend allegedly held a gun to her head and shot her.

Dowsey, 27, who grew up with Taylor in Southern Maryland, told her friends: I can't die like that.

Since her daughter was slain, Alma Young, left, has been raising her grandchildren, Dajon, 2, and Demetrious, 12. (Dudley M. Brooks -- The Washington Post)

But despite the warning, despite the help of advocates, family and friends, despite police attention, a court-issued protective order and her own determination, Dowsey was shot to death in September. Her estranged husband is charged in St. Mary's County.

"He just had some kind of hold on her," said her mother, Alma Young.

In St. Mary's, homicides are so rare that sometimes a year passes without one. But domestic violence has become all too familiar there, said Laura Joyce of the Southern Maryland Center for Family Advocacy.

The number of domestic violence calls has gone up since 2000, from 362 that year to 450 in the first 10 months of this year, according to St. Mary's County Sheriff David D. Zylak. And the number of cases in St. Mary's reported to Maryland State Police went from 427 in 1999 to 650 in 2002.

Last month, another woman died. Sheriff's deputies said George Y. Richardson Jr. shot his ex-girlfriend once in the head and twice in the back and then fatally shot himself. Suzanne Lee Combs, 35, was nine months pregnant and a mother of two children, and she lived near Lexington Park, not far from Taylor and Dowsey.

Those domestic homicides were the only slayings in the county this year, authorities said. And in small-town St. Mary's, a death such as Dowsey's was not just another statistic. It hurt enough that friends and strangers alike responded, calling hotlines, leaving mementos at the cemetery or dancing at her favorite club to raise money for her two children.

One St. Mary's woman asked state lawmakers to find a way to keep people in jail who violate protective orders. Another woman began lobbying county commissioners to build a safe house for battered women in St. Mary's.

Zylak applied for a grant to expand his department's one-woman domestic violence unit. Deputy Julie Yingling said she is so overloaded that it can take days to serve protective orders that might be urgently needed.

John Otha Dickens Sr., who was indicted on a charge of first-degree murder in Dowsey's death, is being held without bond. His attorney, Daun Weiers, declined to comment on the case.

Darlene Dowsey grew up strong.

"We have a lot of boy cousins," her younger sister Deidra Carroll said, "and you know how boys are. They try to push you around -- you've got to stick up for yourself."

Her cousin James "Boo" Barnes remembered her scaring off a neighborhood bully. And he has a scar from the time she bit his finger and wouldn't let go.

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