OPELOUSAS — When 17-year-old Tyrell Jenkins was found along Bullard Street four years ago, police thought he had been knocked off his bicycle and killed by a careless driver who then sped away.
Police now say Jenkins’ death was no hit-and-run accident but payback by a man upset because he thought Jenkins had attacked his grandmother.
Deonta Ware, 22, of Opelousas, was booked Friday on one count of first-degree murder in Jenkins’ death.
“This was an intentional act,” said Opelousas Police Chief Perry Gallow.
Investigators had little evidence to go on after a passing motorist found Jenkins’ body on the evening of March 29, 2010.
There was a lens from a vehicle headlight nearby, “but that was pretty much it,” Gallow said.
The cold-case investigation found new life in February, when detectives received a tip pointing them to Ware, the chief said.
Police interviewed relatives as well as an inmate who had done time with Ware, several of whom had heard him talk about what he did and why, Gallow said.
Gallow said he believes Ware knew Jenkins and recognized him before allegedly striking him with his vehicle.
“We are not going to say this was planned, but in the moment this took place, it was an opportunity,” Gallow said.
The chief said he has been unable to verify allegations that Jenkins attacked Ware’s grandmother.
No complaint was ever filed, Gallow said, and the grandmother died before Ware became a suspect in Jenkins’ death.
The chief said Ware has declined to speak with detectives.
Although there is a lack of strong physical evidence against Ware, Gallow said he believes the circumstantial evidence is substantial.
“We feel we have a very solid case that will not allow this individual to go free,” he said.
Jenkins’ mother, Denise Comeaux, said police told her a few weeks ago they had a possible suspect and that her son’s death might have been intentional.
The news has been difficult, she said, especially considering Ware is believed to be a distant relative.
“It’s so many mixed emotions. It’s just mind blowing, and it’s so hurtful,” she said.
Comeaux said Jenkins loved horses and was preparing to graduate from the St. Landry Accelerated Transition School, the parish’s alternative school, with a certificate in equine studies.
At the time of his death, his girlfriend had just become pregnant, though he did not know, Comeaux said.
She said his daughter was born nine months later in December 2010.
“She is just getting to that age that she is always asking where daddy is at,” Comeaux said.
Gallow said Ware was booked Friday in Opelousas on the murder charge but will be held pending trial in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.
He already was in jail on unrelated charges to which he pleaded guilty in 2011, including simple burglary and aggravated assault, according to information from the Police Department.
Gallow also said Ware allegedly was driving a stolen car when he hit Jenkins.