Courtesy of Jonathan Vause
Shooting victim 36-year-old Michael Travis Hood (above) lost his life after being shot several times outside a bar in West Seattle. Sixty-three year-old Lovett James Chambers has been charged with first degree murder in his death.

A chance at a good life erased by a gun; Charging documents and a witness account reveal the chilling details

“There is a good life here. Please, come out here man; Seattle has a lot to offer.”

Those were the words 42-year-old Jonathan “Jamie” Vause used to encourage his friend, shooting victim Michael Travis Hood, to move from a crime-ridden “ghetto” in Jacksonville, Florida to Seattle in August of 2011.

The urging came shortly after Hood lost his best friend in an “assassination” shooting death in August. Vause said Hood was in need of change, and since the move, things had been going well – opening his first bank account and finding steady employment at Charlie’s Produce.

“He came out here to get away from that and then lost his life as a result,” Vause said. “He was so pumped on his success and he had it all taken away from him.”

On Saturday night, Jan. 21, Hood was shot four times in the chest, allegedly by 63-year-old (or possibly 67, his arrest papers have two birth dates) Lovett James Chambers (aka Cidrick Mann), a West Seattle resident and longtime patron of the Feedback Lounge at the Morgan Street Junction. The shooting occurred just north of Feedback on California Ave.

Vause was with Hood that night and frantically drove him to Mt. St. Vincent, assuming it was a hospital (it is actually a tiered residence for seniors and rehabilitation center). St. Vincent staff called 911 and paramedics arrived in an attempt to save the victim’s life, but the injuries were too dire: he died early Sunday morning.

Two versions arise
In the charging documents released Wednesday, Jan. 25, prosecutors charge Chambers with first degree murder. They intend to show the shooting was premeditated. They have sided with the testimony of Vause, who told authorities and the Herald they were followed out of the bar by Chambers. He said no words were exchanged between the alleged shooter and victim inside the bar. According to court documents, witness accounts are consistent with that version.

After being arrested Chambers was interviewed by detectives and, according to court documents, he said the two men (Vause and victim Hood) had followed him to his vehicle as they made racial slurs (they are white and Chambers is black). He said he got into his blue BMW and grabbed his handgun from under the passenger seat, fearing the men would attack him. Detectives asked “how the shooting could have occurred where Vause’s vehicle had been parked, approximately 50-75 feet to the north … (and) Chambers said he could not remember what happened after he retrieved his gun.”

Chamber’s version is in stark contrast to Vause’s. Vause and Hood normally went out for an occasional beer at the Rocksport Bar and Grill, but on Saturday their usual was too packed to find a table so they decided to check out the Feedback Lounge - a first time visit for both men, Vause said.

They walked to the rear area of the bar, played a game of pinball, ordered a few Manny’s Ales and an order of wings.

Vause said the only person he noticed that night was defendant Chambers as he walked past their booth on the way to the bathroom. He said he thought Chambers may have been an employee, unaware of the Feedback layout and assuming the hall to the bathroom was the entry to the kitchen.

“I don’t know why I noticed him, but something alerted my sixth sense.” He told detectives he didn’t think victim Hood even noticed Chambers.

According to charging documents, the men left the bar around 9:30 and Vause noticed Chambers standing just outside the front door as they exited.

“I remember seeing the same black gentleman to our right where I would have considered a security or doorman to be located,” he said.

No words were exchanged as Hood and Vause made their way northbound back to Vause’s red Ford Ranger, parked in front of the Morgan Street Park. As they walked between Feedback and Beveridge Place, Vause said Hood turned west and started walking away from the truck.

“Where are you going, the truck is over here?” Vause said, according to charging documents. Hood changed his route and followed Vause to the truck. Getting to the vehicle first, Vause said he entered the driver’s side and reached over to unlock the passenger door for Hood.

That was when he noticed Chambers appear behind Hood and the men exchanged words, although he could not hear the conversation.

“As far as I could tell there was no friction because Travis (Hood) turned his back to (Chambers).”

According to charging documents, Vause told police Chambers allegedly walked directly towards Hood and got within two feet of him. Vause had a shovel in his truck bed to dig out from the recent snow storm, and he said Hood spun around, grabbed the shovel and held it up in a “batter’s” stance, stating, “What do you want to do now?”

Hood yelled, “Oh my God, he’s got a gun!,” as he tried to get into the truck, according to charging documents.

“The man (Chambers) jumped back about seven to eight feet and pulled the pistol out and just started blasting,” Vause alleged. “He shot him, boom, boom, boom.”

Vause said he immediately dove out the driver’s side and hid behind the truck bed.

“I peeked back up immediately, he looked me dead in the eyes, put his weapon back in his jacket and just so calm, I’m talking like an 80’s-style pimp strut, he just casually strutted away like it was nothing,” Vause said.

According to court records, police interviewed two witnesses who saw a black male fitting Chamber’s description “pull out a handgun and shoot the white male three to four times.” They did not hear or see an argument and watched the defendant walk to his vehicle – a blue BMW M3 – get into the driver’s seat and text someone before leaving the scene.

“When he looked at me and put that weapon away in his jacket I said, ‘Jesus just saved me,’ I don’t know why that man didn’t point that gun at me and blow my head off.”

Struggling to save a friend
“I jumped in the truck and pulled Travis over and I was thinking, ‘This crazy bastard is going to come kill me,” he said.

The shovel had fallen back into the truck and Hood, his upper body slumped into the truck cabin, was unable to move his legs, still dangling outside the truck, Vause said.

Vause was able to push the shovel away and pull his mortally wounded friend inside.

“I took off, I made a U-turn, and hauled butt down to the first five-way intersection before the Junction, took a right and went up and over the hill to Fauntleroy, through oncoming traffic,” Vause said.

Vause recalled his last conversation with his friend.

“I yelled, ‘Travis are you OK, are you OK?’ and he said, I’m probably going to die this time man, I’m gonna die.”

“No your not Travis, things are going too good this time, stay with me, stay with me!”

He saw Hood was starting to lose consciousness.

“I said, ‘Travis, what the (expletive) was that man! What the (expletive) was that!’”

“I got to pray man, I got to pray,” Hood replied.

“He just started praying and that’s all he did from then on, he wouldn’t talk to me.”

Vause drove to St. Vincent’s and ran inside:

“Oh my God, my friends been shot three times, please come help me! Please come help me!”

Vause said an on-duty nurse explained St. Vincent’s was not a hospital, but quickly called 911.

Hours later, Michael Travis Hood lost his life.

Arresting Chambers
According to court documents, police swiftly identified Chambers, his vehicle and Gatewood neighborhood address. They went to his house, arrested him and took him in for questioning. A .45 caliber pistol, matching the caliber of shell casings found at the murder scene, was found inside the home next to BMW car keys.

Chambers’ wife was also brought in for questioning. According to the charging documents, she told detectives here husband seemed calm when he arrived home and poured himself a glass of wine. He asked her about the movie she was watching.

If convicted, Chambers’ faces a minimum of 25 to 31.6 years in prison (with one count of first degree murder with a deadly weapon enhancement), according to prosecutors. A background check by detectives shows a long rap sheet starting in the 1960s.

According to the court, his criminal history includes a robbery conviction in 1961, grand larceny in ’62, robbery and kidnapping in ’66, resisting public officers in ’72, extortion and bank robbery in’82. He has prior arrests for kidnapping for ransom and/or rape in ’65, armed robbery and felon in possession of a firearm in ’73, robbery in ’74, extortion in ’76 and bank robbery in 1980.

Prosecutors state Chambers has used many aliases during his life, “including Cidrick Mann and at least nine variations of the name ‘Lovett James Chambers.”

A regular at the Feedback Lounge who knows Chambers told the Herald, “The whole thing is incredibly sad. He got along great with everyone … he just seemed like a regular, all-around good guy who knows everyone around Seattle and goes to the popular bars … I just can’t understand what he was thinking.”

According to prosecutors, "Chambers remains in jail with bail set at $5 million. Arraignment is scheduled for February 8 at 8:30 a.m. in courtroom 1201 at the King County Courthouse."

Remembering Travis
Bryan Corbitt, Hood’s cousin from Florida, commented to the Herald:
“My cousin Travis Hood left Jacksonville after our good friend Mark (Ramp) Lee was shot in his front yard in a home invasion/robbery attempt. Travis also lost his two brothers violently one of which was also shot. Travis went to Seattle, Washington to get a fresh start and get away from all the bad memories … Travis was one of my best friends in the world and was always there for me when I needed him. I remember Travis kneeling down next to my Mother’s bed holding her hand praying for her when she was sick. He was one of the best friends anyone could hope to have and he will be deeply missed. My prayers go out to his daughter and his mother Brenda who has already suffered so much. I hope that everyone will join me in my prayers for his family. "Travis, I will miss you."

According to Vause, Hood was trying to secure a steady income to help support his daughter who is still in Florida.

An outsider battling the public’s perception
After the shooting, Vause took to a local media outlet's online comment section to explain what happened that night. He said he has been frustrated by attacks on his story, the character of Hood and himself, and the defense of Chambers - a man well-known to many in West Seattle.

“Now I have to carry that horrid few moments in my mind for the rest of my life,” Vause said. “And as for Travis, he really got cheated the worst."

"I cannot wait to get in the courtroom and tell the judge and jury (what happened). I’ve seen my faith in God is going to be Travis’ and my salvation because if we have to depend on all of you (those questioning his story) we would, I guess, both be dead. You could all say, ‘See our local rapist bank robber had been attacked and he killed those two punks.'”

“I know it’s an open and shut case of first degree murder,” he said.

In the aftermath
Vause and Hood's friends have set up a bank account, The Travis Hood Memorial Fund (donations can be made at any US Bank), to assist Hood's 12 year old daughter and mother as well as a PayPal account and a Facebook page that they intend to use as a clearinghouse for information on the case going forward.

"Right now it's hard to find any joy but I can tell you I went into celebration mode as soon as I heard the prosecutors were charging him with first degree murder," said Vause.

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