Copeland community reacts to killing of one of their own, son charged
This is a six-month review of the most-read crime stories in Collier County on naplesnews.com from September 2018 to February 2019. Vonna Keomanyvong, firstname.lastname@example.org; 239-213-5380
In a place where everyone knows everyone news travels fast, Roylinda Abney said.
“If something happens in Copeland, people in Chokoloskee and Everglades City know in about 2.5 seconds,” Abney said.
Word of the killing of Abney's uncle spread almost immediately through the small fishing community about 45 minutes southeast of Naples, she said.
Casey Hickok, 32, of Copeland is charged with killing his father, Robert Hickok, 54, also of Copeland, while they were working aboard a commercial fishing vessel at sea on March 18, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Robert Hickok, who was born in Detroit but spent most of his life in Copeland, was sleeping when he was bludgeoned to death by Casey Hickok, according to a court document filed in U.S. Middle District Court in Fort Myers.
The father and son were aboard the boat No Bitchin' about 66 miles west of Marco Island when Casey Hickok beat Robert Hickok to death with a spare boat alternator, according to the court document.
Capt. Yamer Jesus Perez told investigators from the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Services he witnessed the killing shortly after 7 a.m. and saw Casey Hickok throw the alternator off the boat afterward, according to the court document.
Perez contacted the U.S. Coast Guard for immediate assistance and tried to help Robert Hickok, but the man’s skull was soft and felt crushed, according to the court document.
Abney, 31, who was born in the Copeland area and moved back to live on Chokoloskee Island 12 years ago, said fishing boat captains heard the emergency call from No Bitchin’. Word that something had gone wrong aboard the vessel spread from the high seas to those back home.
Casey 'Fatman' Hickok
In Copeland, Casey Hickok is known as “Fatman” because of his childhood stature and weight, said Samantha Hunter, 37, who has lived in the Copeland area most of her life. She calls Robert Hickok her uncle even though they weren't blood-related.
There always seemed to be something different about Casey Hickok when he was growing up, she said.
"Fatman has always been devious and jealous,” Hunter said. “The deviousness all you have to do is watch the way he looks at people. You can see what runs through his mind right across his face."
Robert Hickok was a commercial fisherman for about 35 years, usually fishing for stone crab or grouper.
The crew aboard No Bitchin’ was fishing for grouper and had been out at sea for about a week when Perez reported the emergency on board, Abney said.
The boat was anchored while Perez tried to fix the alternator. The plan was to return to shore that day. Casey Hickok was one of Robert’s eight children and worked as a commercial fisherman from time to time.
He mostly filled in for fishermen who couldn’t make it out on certain trips, but he had problems staying out of trouble, Abney said.
"Casey would go out with him (Robert) every now and again on the fishing trips when he wasn't in jail,” Abney said.
Court records show Casey Hickok was adjudicated guilty on a battery charge in 2006 and sentenced to 60 days in county jail.
He was also adjudicated guilty on an aggravated assault charge in 2009 and spent from December 2009 to August 2013 in state prison, according to court records.
Casey Hickok also spent from August 2008 to February 2009 in state prison after he was adjudicated guilty of aiding a jail escape, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.
He was charged March 19 with second-degree murder within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, according to federal court documents.
He was ordered detained pending trial. A preliminary hearing is scheduled April 2, and his arraignment is scheduled for April 3.
Robert Hickok had his share of struggles in life, but he never had the same qualities that made his son stand out from others in Copeland, Hunter said.
"I don't know what happened to Fatman that caused him to be this way, but he was not raised like that,” Hunter said. “Robert wouldn't have raised his kids like that."
Those who knew Robert Hickok said he was a true Copeland fisherman.
“The happiest part of Robert’s life was fishing,” said Kim Hunt, his younger sister. “He even brought his own pole to fish with on that grouper boat. Even when he was on land he was fishing."
Casey Hickok taken into custody
A Coast Guard rescue swimmer boarded No Bitchin’ and found Robert Hickok with significant head and face injuries and determined he was dead, according to a federal court document.
The fishing boat was then escorted to the Coast Guard station at Fort Myers Beach.
During an interview by a special agent of the Coast Guard, Casey Hickok made several unsolicited comments indicating that the dead man was his father and that he had "raped me," according to the document.
Perez, the vessel's captain, said he was making repairs to the boat's alternator using parts from a second alternator, according to the court document.
Casey Hickok offered to help with the repair, then picked up the second alternator and walked to where his father was asleep, the captain told investigators.
Perez said he heard Casey Hickok slam the alternator down near his father and then saw him strike the man in the head twice, according to the federal court document.
Perez also told the investigator that he saw Casey Hickok carrying a hammer as he walked from the area where Robert Hickok was sleeping and thought that he might have struck his father with the tool, according to the document.
Casey Hickok declined to provide a statement without an attorney present when questioned by investigators, according to his criminal complaint.
The case is being investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service and the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.
Copeland's 205 permanent residents are as wary of outsiders as they are close to each other. Robert Hickok's death drew the community together.
"Everyone was talking about it and everyone was in a state of shock,” Hunter said. “We didn’t realize how horrible this was at first."
A few members of the community have died from old age recently, others from infections contracted from injuries suffered after Hurricane Irma in 2017. Hunter said she can’t remember the last time a resident was accused of killing another person.
Robert Hickok’s death may change the way boat captains think about who they let on their vessels, Hunter said.
“A lot of the captains have been really watching who they have on their boats and they aren't letting a lot of new or unknown people on right now," Hunter said.
A memorial service was scheduled for Robert Hickok at the Copeland Baptist Church on Saturday, right down the road and within sight of the home where Casey Hickok lived.
In addition to his children, Robert Hickok had an older brother, two younger sisters and one younger brother as well as many grandchildren. Some of his family live in the Copeland area, while others live in various places across Florida and out of state.
"I hope it (the memorial service) brings the family back together more because they do need each other, right now more than ever,” Hunter said.
Hunt said the allegation that it was Robert Hickok's son who killed him been hard for Hunt to process, she said.
“That's where the hurt and anger comes in especially thick,” Hunt said. "It's left a void in all of us."
Hunt, who lives on Chokoloskee Island, said she has been constantly reminded of her brother.
She thinks of him when she sees the men fishing along State Road 29 that runs from Everglades City to Copeland or looks at Chokoloskee Bay, she said.
“There is not one place in this small town that I can go,” Hunt said. “Robert was everywhere and everybody in this town knows everybody."