By DOTTY NIST
A 60-year-old local resident is facing first degree murder charges in connection with a shooting incident in Miramar Beach that resulted in the death of two young people and the hospitalization of three others with serious injuries.
Dannie Roy Baker was taken in custody on the morning of Feb. 26 following the incident, which had begun shortly before 2 a.m. with shots being fired into a residence in the Summer Lakes townhome complex on Scenic Gulf Drive. Baker resided in a nearby townhome within the complex.
The Walton County Sheriff’s Office issued press releases with information on the incident later in the morning, just hours after the suspect’s arrest, and Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson held a press conference regarding the incident shortly afterward at 2 p.m.
“This is a tragedy of truly serious proportions,” Adkinson told members of the news media.
“We’ve been at this all night,” Adkinson said. “We are committed to seeing this through to justice,” he pledged.
He remarked that a number of young people who were impacted by the violence are now severely traumatized in its wake. “They are our number-one concern,” he declared.
Adkinson said deputies responding to the residence, following reports of shots being fired, encountered a situation of confusion there, with 14 people in the townhome, including two deceased persons and three wounded from rifle fire.
He explained that the deputies isolated the suspect immediately after the shooting, and that with support from other agencies, the area was contained. Attempts were then initiated to communicate with Baker inside his residence.
Agencies participating included special response teams from Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties, branches of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, South Walton Fire District emergency personnel, and Medical Examiner’s Office representatives, Adkinson said.
Adkinson explained that, due to the suspect being isolated, the personnel were able to proceed in an unrushed manner to apprehend him. The suspect surrendered to special response personnel at approximately 6:10 a.m., Adkinson reported, and was taken into custody without incident. He called the response “a textbook example of how agencies can work together.”
Joining Adkinson at the Feb. 26 press conference was Bill Eddins, state attorney for the First Judicial Circuit. Eddins commented that his office would be gathering information to be presented to a grand jury in connection with the incident, and that a first degree murder indictment would be sought.
Initially, no information on the identities of the shooting victims was provided, pending notification of family members. On Feb. 27, the sheriff’s office did reveal the names and ages of the victims in a press release.
The deceased were identified as Nicolas Pablo Corp-Torres, a 23-year-old male, and Racine Balbontin-Aragondona, a 22-year-old female.
The three wounded victims were identified as: Fransisco Javier Cofre-Fernande, 25; Sebastian Mauricio Arizaga-Suarez, 27; and David Alonzo Bilbao-Meza, 21. Cofre-Fernande, who had been life-flighted to Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, is reported to be in critical condition. Arizaga-Suarez, transported by air to the same hospital, is reportedly in stable condition. Bilbao-Meza, hospitalized at Sacred Heart of the Emerald Coast, is reported to be in good condition.
While there had been reports that all 14 persons in the victimized townhome resided there, information released by the sheriff’s office on Feb. 27 revealed a different situation, stating that this had been a social gathering of young people from Chile at the residence of a friend. All were reportedly in the United States legally with student work visas, and there had been no complaints about noise disturbances from the neighborhood in connection with the gathering.
The Feb. 27 press release also specified that the shooter had fired into a window of the townhome from outside without entering the residence. Sheriff Adkinson stated that the suspect, Baker, had been involved in at least three prior incidents, including one in 2007 in which he resisted arrest without violence.
He confirmed that Baker was the individual who, approximately six months ago, had sent e-mail messages “considered threatening in nature” to politicians. Baker had not been publicly identified as the sender of the messages at that time.
In August 2008, Tim Norris, chairman of the Walton County Republican Executive Committee, had confirmed that a death threat had been sent via e-mail to the Republican Party Victory Center in Santa Rosa Beach. Norris had stated that the threat had targeted not local but national politicians regardless of party affiliation.
Norris said information on the threat had been turned over to the FBI and to the office of Ralph Johnson, Walton County sheriff at that time, for investigation. Baker was not arrested in connection with the e-mail message.
Contacted on Feb. 27, Norris commented that Baker had once been a very good worker for the party during the 2004 Bush/Cheney election campaign, but that his behavior had later turned “a little eccentric.” Local party members did not see Baker for quite a while, Norris said, until he again started to show up at the campaign center from time to time in summer 2008 and the threatening e-mail messages from the former party worker began.
Norris said Baker had encountered some health problems and some “hard times.” Norris explained, “He was fed up with the system, and he said he wanted to clean up all the corruption in Washington.
“We asked him to stop coming around,” Norris recalled, “because he was making people feel unconfortable.” He also recalled that Sheriff Johnson had been very helpful in assigning deputies to keep an eye on the campaign center around the time the threats occurred.
“This is a very sad day today,” Norris concluded.
The Walton County Sheriff’s Office reported on Feb. 27 that there had as yet been no indication of motive in connection with the tragic incident.