CLEARWATER — Authorities say a man accused of injuring a city worker in a hit-and-run crash Thursday told investigators he thought the worker was a terrorist, possibly of Middle Eastern descent, and wanted to kill him.
Gerald Christopher Prebe, 35, of 1512 Tilley Ave. was originally charged with aggravated battery with a motor vehicle. Police raised that to attempted murder after interviewing Prebe.
Police are still investigating to determine if they will charge him with a hate crime, said Clearwater police spokeswoman Elizabeth Watts.
Prebe is accused of running into 53-year-old Terry Butler, a public services technician with the city's traffic engineering department, about 1:45 p.m. at the intersection of Magnolia and Brookside drives, which is east of S Keene Road and south of Druid Road.
Butler is African-American; Prebe is white.
Police have not released specifics about what Prebe said when interviewed, but according to initial reports broadcast over the police scanner, someone in Prebe's vehicle yelled a racial slur at Butler before he was hit.
Butler had just finished painting stripes on a nearby road and was on his break in the area when he was hit. City spokeswoman Joelle Castelli said Butler "oftentimes enjoyed watching water while on break." There is a small lake nearby.
Butler was outside his city GMC pickup truck, which was stopped in the road, and was walking back to it when Prebe accelerated toward him in a blue 2001 Nissan pickup, Watts said.
Prebe sideswiped Butler's truck and hit Butler, throwing him about 20 feet from the point of impact, Watts said.
There is no indication that Butler and Prebe knew each other, though they do live in the same neighborhood, Watts said.
Butler, who has been with the city since 1986, was taken by ambulance to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg. On Friday morning he was listed in good condition with injuries that do not appear to be life-threatening, police said.
According to Prebe's arrest report, Butler suffered a fractured neck and had internal bleeding that required emergency surgery.
On Friday, Prebe was being held in the Pinellas County Jail in lieu of $100,000 bail.