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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Bullets End Addict's Inspiring Recovery

Crime: An ex-convict, who friends say had turned his life around, is shot to death walking to work. Police are searching for suspects and a motive.

October 05, 2000|GAIL DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

OXNARD — An ex-convict and former methamphetamine addict, James Boyce had finally straightened out his life at the Ventura County Rescue Mission. Tuesday, he learned he would soon have a full-time job.

But early Wednesday morning, as he walked to his temporary job at a thrift store, Boyce was fatally shot. He died in the dirt and gravel next to the railroad tracks, his sack lunch lying nearby.

Friends at the mission in Oxnard were shocked to learn of the 42-year-old Boyce's death, one day after he was told he would get a full-time job in one of the mission's thrift stores. They consoled each other with a prayer vigil and with making arrangements for a memorial service.

Boyce had just completed a one-year recovery program to kick his methamphetamine habit. He stayed upbeat through his struggles with addiction, friends said, and was an inspiration to other former addicts.

The man who had told friends of his one-time association with the Hell's Angels spent his free time taking Bible classes and teaching fellow residents to read, said Jerry Roberg, executive director of the Rescue Mission Alliance.

"We see a lot of people die on the streets but not someone like that," Roberg said. "Everything that guy is, everything he could be, everything he's gone through to get his life together, is just--whoosh--gone."

Boyce, who was walking north in the railroad right-of-way near the Oxnard Transportation Center shortly before 5 a.m. Wednesday, was shot several times, police said. A witness saw two men running away, Oxnard Police Sgt. James Seitz said.

Officers arrived to find Boyce lying beside the tracks. Paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene, Seitz said.

Boyce died within sight of the Mission Bargain Center on South Harrison Street where he worked preparing stock for the store.

Police, Seitz said, don't have a motive yet. They ruled out robbery, because Boyce was still wearing jewelry and had his wallet. They also said it doesn't appear to be gang-related because of Boyce's age and the crime's time and location.

No trains were scheduled to come through the center early Wednesday morning because of construction in the area, but police blocked off the tracks and used a bloodhound to search for suspects. The dog followed a scent south of the crime scene, but lost it about half a mile away, Seitz said.

The search for suspects continued Wednesday afternoon, Seitz said.

The wide stretch of dirt right-of-way Boyce was walking on when he was shot is not open to the public, Seitz said, but pedestrians use it as a shortcut anyway.

Mission residents frequently take the route to the bargain center, which is just blocks away. Mission officials said in the future a driver will take employees to the center if it is dark outside, and in daylight they will walk to work in groups.

Boyce went to high school in Grand Island, Neb. He was a cook in the Navy in the early 1980s and later worked as a cook in Nebraska, San Francisco and Texas.

Carol Roberg, the mission's executive director and wife of Jerry Roberg, said Boyce had been convicted of sale and possession of methamphetamine and had told people at the mission he had some connections to the Hell's Angels.

Boyce was thrilled on Tuesday to learn he soon would be given a full-time job, said Carol Roberg. He was working at the bargain center in a job training program for a small stipend.

In his free time, Boyce took Bible classes at South Coast Fellowship Church in Ventura and planned to become a minister. He used the Bible to help fellow residents learn to read while working in the mission's tutoring center.

"He was like a brother," said Bill Aldridge, 56, a resident recovering from hip replacement surgery whom Boyce was teaching to read. "Every time he'd go out he'd ask me if I'd like something."

Other friends described Boyce as kindhearted and generous with a steely resolve to stay clean.

"He never gave up, no matter how hard we rode him," said David Logan, 27, who works at the rescue mission. "He never turned his back on any challenge or anybody."

Brandie Limbaugh, 31, a frequent customer at the bargain center, said Boyce always had a kind word and often gave her food to take home to her family.

"He really was a testimony to his new-found faith," said Bruce Johnson, a chaplain at the mission.

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