MANATEE — It was exactly one year ago Tuesday when Dr. James Briles came home from work to find his wife bound, beaten and slain in their home.
“I prayed she passed out and didn’t suffer long,” Briles said late Tuesday afternoon while he was attending the National Night Out event at Pride Park in Southern Manatee County.
The threatening clouds may have kept some of the residents away, but the weather didn’t dampen the community spirit of the small crowd of 30 that gathered to learn about crime prevention and watch a movie.
Kathleen Briles, 48, died after detectives say Delmer Smith, 38, bludgeoned her with a cast-iron sewing machine before stealing items from her home. Some of those items were later recovered in a storage unit under Smith’s control during an investigation into a series of home invasion attacks on women in Sarasota and Manatee counties.
The family spent part of the day visiting Kathleen’s grave site. Briles said he still misses his wife’s laughter.
“When Kathy was happy, everything was right in the world,” he said.
Now her family is pressing for a new law that would require pawn shop owners to take pictures of the sellers and items they are pawning which would be entered into a statewide database at the end of each business day.
The family hopes it would make it easier for authorities to track down stolen property and make arrests, hopefully preventing other crimes.
“It can’t bring her back, but it sure would be nice to help other families,” said Diane Brinker, Kathleen’s sister.
Smith is scheduled to go to trial in July 2011.
With clipboards ready, Briles, friends and family members wore T-shirt with Kathleen’s picture and asked people gathered in the ballfield for the Night Out event to sign a petition promoting the proposed pawn shop legislation.
The annual event was one of thousands organized around the country to highlight what communities can do to combat crime in their neighborhoods, said Deputy Dawn Stroup, with the Crime Prevention Section of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.
“This is to show there is unity in the community,” Stroup said. “It’s to say, we’re out here, looking out for each other.”
Several organizations and groups had tables set up and passed out information on community activities or crime prevention techniques.
Emmett Scott with the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI was distributing fingerprinting and DNA kits to parents to use in recording information about their children.
“They keep them in a safe place and provide them to law enforcement if needed,” Scott said.
The retired 28-year veteran of the FBI said the kits have proved helpful over the years in helping recover children who were taken or have run away.
John Mann, chairman of the South County Community Redevelopment Agency advisory board, one of the event sponsors, said the Night Out event gets the word out about community events.
Volunteers with the Urban Trust Bank helped distribute popcorn and drinks for the movie. Gina Charles, an assistant manager at the local branch of Urban Trust Bank, said the financial institution was founded to give people in urban communities a second chance.
Although the Briles did not receive many signatures Tuesday, Dr. Briles was happy that the word was getting out about the pawn shop legislation.
“We’ve got family members at a Night Out event in Sarasota and they called to say they collected a lot of signatures,” he said.
To sign the petition or learn more about the proposed legislation, visit www.kathleenscause.com.