Father slain in front of young son, caught up in feud between neighbors

Man shot over parking spot while 4-year-old son awaited in truck nearby.

Troy Preston had long planned to leave Baltimore. He was "a country boy" at heart, his wife said, and disliked the hustle of the city and always felt it was too dangerous.

"He hated the city. He hated the crime. He hated it," Keira Bryant-Preston said. "We had plans to move to North Carolina where it was slower."

But last week, after the self-employed contractor picked up his 4-year-old son from preschool and stopped by a house on Glenkirk Road, where he had done some work, Preston was killed during what police say was a dispute between neighbors over a parking space. According to charging documents, Preston was shot in the head in front of his truck, where his wife said his son was waiting for him.

The house on Glenkirk Road was his last stop before heading home, his wife said.

"He didn't have anything to do with it," she said.

Police have charged Dennis Padgett, 34 with first-degree murder and related charges in the killing of Preston and Robert Durham Thomas, 40, who was Padgett's neighbor.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake attended a prayer vigil Monday for Preston and Thomas. About 70 people, most holding lighted candles, gathered outside Leith Walk Elementary School.

"I am shocked by the tragic loss of these two men," Rawlings-Blake said. "We have to do better than that. It's going to take all of us coming together to stop this senseless violence."

The vigil was organized by Joseph Armstead, president of the Ramblewood Community Association. He said children were including his daughter Brittany, a ninth-grade student at Mercy High School, were walking home from school at the time of the shootings.

"We really need to stop the viiolence, the drugs, the guns," Armstead said. "We need to stop the evil."

Police said the violence began after Padgett and Thomas got into an argument on Glenkirk Road shortly before 3:45 p.m. last Friday. Police said Padgett took his children inside his home and emerged with an AR-15-type assault rifle and a 9mm handgun, shooting Preston in the street.

Police said Padgett then chased Thomas, about a block north to Northern Parkway. Padgett shot Thomas, who fell in the middle of Northern Parkway, according to police, while another bullet pierced the windshield of an oncoming vehicle.

Padgett then walked up to Thomas in the middle of traffic, shooting him numerous times in the head and body with the high-caliber rifle and pistol, police said. "Padgett was standing so close," a detective wrote in court documents, "that blood and brain matter splattered on his pants and shoes."

Police said Padgett ran back to his house. The SWAT team responded to the area, closing in on the home. Padgett came outside and surrendered himself to an officer, police said.

Online court records do not list an attorney for Padgett.

Bryant-Preston said she began to worry after her husband didn't come home. She called her mother-in-law and an employee of her husband's, and both said they hadn't heard from him. She considered calling local hospitals. Her mother-in-law told her to call police.

Early Saturday morning, she went to the Northeastern District police station on Argonne Drive, where she spotted her husband's truck in the parking lot.

After speaking to an officer at the front desk and some waiting, she said a detective sat down with her and broke the news.

"There were just so many things going through my mind," she said, including where her young stepson had been taken.

She said the little boy was unable to tell officers his address or his name, so he was taken to foster care. She was reunited with him later that day.

"He can tell you, 'My dad got shot,' but he thinks daddy is in the hospital," she said. The little boy does not understand his father isn't coming home, she said.

Police said Padgett and Thomas had a long-standing dispute over parking on their street.

The police account does not mention how Preston became involved.

Marilyn Dennis, Preston's friend, said Preston was calm, not one to start a fight.

Dennis said she and her husband were longtime friends with Preston, who was 47, even though the couple now live in Florida. He was the best man at their wedding. They spoke on the phone every week, and Preston would often put his young son on the phone to chat.

"He would have stood by someone. I could see him saying, 'Hey, hey, hey, what is going on here,'" Dennis said. "Troy wasn't someone that brought that to the neighborhood. He didn't bring the crime. He didn't bring the trouble."

Bryant-Preston said the couple had plans to relocate after her three teenage children finished high school in Baltimore. They wanted to raise Preston's young son elsewhere.

She said Preston's favorite pastime was fishing. She said Preston, originally from Hampton, Va., had found favorite fishing spots all over the city and Baltimore County.

But the brief reprieves from city life were not enough.

"He knew the streets around him were too dangerous," Dennis said. He wanted more for the "little boy he was just so proud of."

jkanderson@baltsun.com

twitter.com/janders5

Baltimore Sun reporter Mary McCauley contributed to this article.

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