Mall tragedy: A young man's life, cut short
On Thursday, September 12, William "Billy" Dean celebrated his 19th birthday with family and friends.
The next night, in an event that may never be fully understood, Billy fell to his death from the Downtown Mall building next to Hamiltons' that houses both his apartment and his father's ballroom dance business, Terry Dean's Dance Studio.
Despite immediate attention from patrons of nearby outdoor cafés including at least one nurse who had been sitting at Miller's restaurant and a rapid response from EMTs who arrived within five minutes of the 911 call, Billy could not be resuscitated.
The incident occurred around 10:35pm on a warm Friday night, a busy time along the pedestrian thoroughfare that runs past the dance studio building.
Witnesses, including Jackson Landers, who was seated outdoors at Miller's and saw Billy fall, say a head injury was immediately fatal. "By the time we got to him," Landers says, "I heard someone say, 'He has no pulse.'"
Although police officers leading the investigation would not comment on the matter to The Hook, Officer Mike Farruggio was quoted in a Sunday, September 15, Daily Progress story as saying, "He either fell or he jumped."
Billy's family, however, say they have no reason to suspect the latter.
On the night of his death, Billy's grandmother, Dorothy Dean, says the teen had misplaced the key to his third-floor apartment, just above the dance studio something that had happened before. He reportedly told some kids on the Mall, "I know how to get in," and was then seen climbing up the back of the building.
"He had gotten in through a skylight on another occasion," says his father, Terry, who believes Billy thought he could enter an apartment window via the roof, which is approximately 40 feet above the Mall.
"He and his friends would hang out on the roof on Friday nights and watch people go by," says Terry. Although some of his friends were frightened by the height, Terry says, Billy did not share such a fear.
"We choose to think it was an accident," says Dorothy Dean. "God wanted him; he took him; and that's what we're going to live with."
Billy's family had scheduled a memorial service for Wednesday, September 18 (past The Hook's press time), at the dance studio.
"Billy was a good kid and a fun kid," his father recalls. At the same time, though, Terry says, "He was a spiritual kid; very quiet, very inward, and reflective on life."
A 2001 graduate of Louisa High School, Billy moved to Charlottesville to be near his dad last spring a move that strengthened their relationship.
"In the last eight months," Terry recalls, "we became close." In fact, in addition to living in the apartment above his father's studio, Billy was thinking of following his father's footsteps literally–- to become a dance instructor.
"He loved music," Terry says. "He played guitar, and he was working on his dancing."
Close friend James Woodward, 18, attended Louisa High with Billy, and says the two were "like brothers." The pair had formed a rock and roll band called Gravity Hits Back, for which Billy wrote some songs. Woodward says Billy had started but never finished one particular song; as a tribute, Woodward hoped to finish the song and perform it at the memorial service.
In addition to his passion for music, Billy's mother, Nina Daniels, says her younger son loved animals and had a kind streak a mile wide. "He would have given you the shirt off his back," she says.
"He was a beautiful spirit," Dorothy agrees. She recalls an exchange she had with Billy the day before his birthday. "Grandma," he said, "I'm going to get serious about this dancing thing."
"I'm really proud of you," she replied. "I love you."
"I love you, too," Billy told her.