Apr 28, 2002   01:22PM Horizon Realty


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Thursday, January 31, 2002

Roth's dad: Suspect in killing was suicidal

Sun staff writer

The Gainesville High School student accused of killing his guardian was prescribed the anti-depressant drug Prozac about eight months ago after becoming suicidal, according to the victim's father.

A bottle of the pills prescribed to Tavares Eugene Williams, 18, was found in the apartment he shared with Barbara Roth, said Roth's father, Sam Roth of DeLand.

Meanwhile, a memorial service will be held today at 3 p.m. at the University of Florida, where Roth worked as a research analyst and adjunct professor.

"It seems that for the last eight months he was on Prozac, and there was a time he thought about committing suicide," Sam Roth said. "We got the medication and brought it to detectives. They contacted the doctor and learned about it."

Barbara Roth, 51, was found dead in their Covered Bridge apartment at 1810 NW 23rd Blvd. late Friday afternoon.

Williams was questioned by police. Detectives said he implicated himself, saying he hit Roth three times with a baseball bat. He was charged with murder Friday night.

Prozac is a commonly prescribed and effective anti-depressant, said Dr. Pierre Blier, a psychiatry professor at the University of Florida.

"The side-effect profile is so benign compared to the older anti-depressants," Blier said. "People with major depression sometimes commit suicide or can sometimes be aggressive. Rarely will you see homicidal acts by depressed patients."

Use of the drug had been linked to violent behavior years ago, but Blier and UF pharmacy professor Paul Doering said those claims were never founded.

The death ended a long and unusual relationship between Roth and Williams.

They met when Williams was 4 years old in Volusia County, living in an unstable home.

Roth was a social worker assigned to Williams' family for the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, now the Department of Children and Families.

Sam Roth said his daughter took a liking to Williams. They kept in contact even after Roth moved to Gainesville around 1993 to earn a doctorate from UF.

"Tavares had a terrible background, a terrible childhood. . . . Sometimes they even lived in cars," he said. "About four years ago, when Tavares was about to go to high school, she took him under her wings. She got power of attorney from his father to take care of him."

Police had said Barbara Roth adopted Williams, but Sam Roth said he wasn't sure if she had adopted him.

When Williams moved to Gainesville with Roth, she got him tutors to keep his grades up, and he was a four-year member of the GHS football team.

Friends of Williams and Roth said he had been offered a football scholarship by Methodist College in Fayetteville, N.C. Williams had a job last summer at the Alachua County Sheriff's Office.

Friends and coaches were perplexed by the death. They said Williams was mild-mannered and always seemed to get along well with Roth.

Tutoring, however, may have been the spark for a fatal argument.

"The only reason we can think of is that he had a tutor coming Thursday. The tutor was there, but Tavares never showed up," Sam Roth said. "When he came home, maybe she scolded him a little bit. Maybe she told him he needs to get his grades up to get the scholarship. Maybe that's what triggered him. I never knew he had a bat in his room."

Barbara Roth was born in Rockville Centre, N.Y., and grew up there. She earned a bachelor's degree in anthropology from Harper University in New York.

Sam and his wife, Doris, moved to DeLand in 1972. Roth moved to Florida later, earning a master's degree in public administration from the University of Central Florida.

She worked as a draftsman and a social worker. She also learned to be a mechanic after an accident; she decided to learn to fix her own car rather than pay someone, Sam Roth said.

"She was a mechanic for Sears in the Orlando area and then got hired by Ford to be a supervisor," he said.

Meanwhile, Sam and Doris Roth are trying to cope with the death of their daughter. They last saw her at New Year's when she and Williams came to DeLand.

They said they have no desire to talk with Williams.

"We told police we don't want him in harm's way," he said. "We cared for him, but we've closed the book on him. We're not going to visit him. I can't help him anymore."

The Roths will attend today's memorial service. It is at 3 p.m. in the Keene Faculty Center in Dauer Hall.

Cindy Swirko can be reached at 374-5024

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