Family, friends struggle in wake of Detroit road rage death

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

For days, well-wishers have wrapped white ribbons around trees throughout Berkley, the community where Tyler Wingate attended high school.

Tyler Wingate graduated from Berkley High School in 2013.

The 24-year-old never lived in the city, but his outgoing personality endeared him to many. And in the wake of his death in a brutal attack after a car crash Monday in Detroit, friends fanned out across the city to honor his memory.

"It's very reflective of how many lives he’s touched," said Sharlee Wingate, who is married to his father and has raised him since age 5.

As relatives prepare to say their goodbyes, they are struggling with the realization that, as police recount, someone allegedly beat Wingate, left him to die and went into hiding.

Police Chief James Craig on Wednesday urged the suspect, identified as Lawrence James Davis, 23, to turn himself in.

Wingate's family is pleading the same.

"Whoever is harboring him, they need to stop and turn him in," Sharlee Wingate told The Detroit News on Wednesday night.

Since news of his death Monday, loved ones have been turning to social media to keep Tyler Wingate's memory alive and the case in the public eye.

"To everyone reaching out asking if we need anything / if there is anything they can do: please just keep sharing Lawrence Davis’s name and photo until he is found & can be brought to Justice for Tyler Wingate," one friend wrote on Facebook.

The violent encounter that ended his life, relatives say, was a shocking end to 24 years spent embracing the opposite.

"He enjoyed every walk of life," Sharlee Wingate said. "There was not a prejudiced bone in his body. Everybody was his friend. ... As parents we told him there was evil in this world, and he didn't believe us."

Tyler Wingate attended Berkley High School, where, like his siblings, he was active in sports, playing varsity football and basketball, relatives said.

"Tyler, BHS Class of 2013, will be remembered for his big smile and kind heart," Berkley Schools officials said in a statement on the district's Facebook page.

For about four years, Tyler had worked at Wolverine Packing Co. in Detroit, his family said.

In the last couple years, he moved in with friends to a rehabbed house on the city's west side, his stepmother recalled. "He believed in the city."

One of his favorite pastimes was walking around the neighborhood with Odin, the pit bull he affectionately referred to as a "son" and whose upcoming first birthday he planned to mark by throwing a party.

"He loved his dog, he loved nature, and he just loved people," Sharlee Wingate said.

Tyler also loved music and was "an old soul" who appreciated artists from earlier eras, she added.

"That man loved Johnny Cash. I never understood it, but he did," one friend wrote on Facebook.

Those in his orbit marveled at his charming, magnetic spirit and dedication to others. In recent years, he donated 18 inches of his hair to a group that makes wigs for cancer patients, Sharlee Wingate said.

"He was kind and loving," she said. "He always had a great smile and a funny personality, and was always late for dinner."

Tyler Wingate had recently moved to Detroit.

Early Monday, Tyler and a cousin were headed out to eat in his 2011 Buick Regal, the car he considered his first "adult" purchase, Sharlee Wingate said.

Craig and investigators allege that after the collision with a dark blue 2007 Chevrolet Impala about 1:50 a.m. Monday on the 13500 block of Livernois, Tyler Wingate exited then was beaten by Davis.

"The victim was trying to communicate with the suspect, but the suspect became enraged and began to strike the victim several times, knocking him to the ground," the police chief said Wednesday. "At some point, the victim is able to stand on his feet, and he's knocked down again."

Wingate was pronounced dead at the scene.

Sharlee Wingate acknowledges knowing the suspect in his death remains at large has taken a toll.

"We’re very angry, but we are focusing so much on" the future, she said Wednesday.

Visitation is scheduled for 1-8 p.m. Thursday at Sullivan & Son Funeral Home, 705 W. 11 Mile, Royal Oak.

The funeral is 11 a.m. Friday at Berkley Community Church. Burial follows at Oakview Cemetery in Royal Oak.

Anyone with information on Davis is asked to call the Detroit Police Department's Homicide Unit at (313) 596-2260. Anonymous tips can also be left with Crime Stoppers of Michigan at 1-800-SPEAK-UP. 

Within hours of his death, supporters launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for funeral costs. By late Wednesday, more than 1,000 donors had contributed enough to surpass the $50,000 goal.

"I am so sorry to the family, this story has broken my heart," one contributor wrote on the website. "No one deserves to die this way."