NEW PORT RICHEY — A New Port Richey man was arrested Thursday in the stabbing death of Antonio Rangel, 20, a former star athlete at Gulf High School whose body was found early Wednesday on the side of a rural road in the Moon Lake area.
"He was always trying to do the right things and always had good intentions," Rangel's girlfriend Alysa Van Scoyk said. "I don't think he had a bad bone in his body."
Pasco sheriff's deputies say Thomas Lesher, 31, stabbed Rangel to death during a drug deal.
Deputies said a passer-by found Rangel just before 8 a.m. Wednesday on the shoulder of Moon Lake Road. His face was cut and there was a large wound in his chest. A knife and cellphone were found nearby. His car was missing but was found in the same neighborhood, the keys still in the ignition and the seat heavily stained by blood.
Rangel was supposed to meet Van Scoyk after work Tuesday night, she said. About 9:50, he sent her a text message telling her he loved her and wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.
When she hadn't heard from him again by about 11, she said, she started to worry. She contacted his parents, and together they searched for him. In the morning they went to the nearest police station, where they were told his body had been found.
"I don't know why anyone would want to hurt Tony," Van Scoyk, 19, said.
Van Scoyk said Lesher used to live down the street from Rangel before moving to Moon Lake. Records show he was charged with aggravated battery on a pregnant woman in 2012.
After searching Rangel's phone, detectives said they found text messages indicating he planned to meet a man named "Tom" for a drug transaction. They traced the number to Lesher, who lived less than a mile from where Rangel's body was found, and met him in his home Wednesday night.
Detectives said Lesher admitted to stabbing Rangel several times after an argument, then to stealing Rangel's car and leaving him by the road. Lesher took detectives to a wooded area behind his home where he discarded the clothes he said were stained with Rangel's blood.
Before he graduated in 2011, Rangel was captain of the basketball team at Gulf High School. A former teammate remembers him as one of the most gifted athletes he has ever played with or against.
"It's one of the most unexpected things I've heard in a long time," Will Fulmer, 18, said. "I just expected Tony to go on to college, succeed. I never expected to hear anything like this."
Rangel had three siblings and worked for his father's landscaping company. On Monday, he and Van Scoyk started classes at Pasco-Hernando Community College. Rangel was studying business, but he hadn't yet chosen a career.
"I know he would have been extremely successful," Van Scoyk said.
Lesher faces a charge of second-degree murder. He remained in the Land O'Lakes jail Thursday without bail.
Times staff writer Matt Baker and news researchers Carolyn Edds and Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Claire Wiseman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727)-893-8804. Follow @clairelwiseman on Twitter.