TAMPA — When Jerome Hayes lived in Brandon in the 1990s, a neighbor said, he dressed up like an elf every year and helped neighbors put up Christmas decorations. He was vice president of the homeowners association.
"I can't say anything negative about him," said former neighbor Debbie Smith, whose son played with Hayes' children. She never knew him to be violent.
"I just can't imagine what transpired since he left here," she said.
None of this explains how Hayes, 48, now of St. Cloud near Orlando, ended up in a red uniform and shackles Tuesday morning, standing in a Hillsborough County jail, listening in as a judge in a Tampa courtroom ordered him held without bail on a charge of first-degree murder.
Hayes is accused of killing Fred Turner Jr., 47, the Orlando man shot Saturday afternoon on Interstate 4. Hayes surrendered Monday and, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, thought Turner was someone else as he followed him from a strip club parking lot, chased him onto I-4, then shot him three times.
Hayes meant to follow a man he had fought with at that strip club, the agency said. But when Turner walked out of the adult video store next door, Hayes and another man followed. The man with Hayes has been questioned but not charged. His name has not been released.
Hayes' attorney, Nick Matassini, told a judge Tuesday that he plans to argue for Hayes' pre-trial release. He cited his lack of a major criminal record and his cooperation.
"He's a very soft-spoken, nice guy," he said. "He does not seem like the kind of guy you'd expect to commit this kind of crime."
Those who could perhaps explain how "neighborhood elf" became "accused I-4 shooter" have turned away from the glare of media attention. Hayes' sister in Largo posted a "no trespassing" sign in her yard and told a reporter Tuesday he was trespassing. Management at the Tampa Gold Club, the strip club at 6222 Adamo Drive where Hayes had been, declined to comment.
A search warrant affidavit filed Tuesday details the Sheriff's Office case. A receipt from Tres Equis, the adult video store next to the Gold Club, was found on Turner. The receipt was time-stamped 2:44 p.m. Saturday.
Minutes before, Hayes and another man had been kicked out of the Gold Club for fighting with another patron, officials said. Surveillance footage shows one of them opening the trunk to a gray Ford Taurus and retrieving an "unknown object," the warrant states, then both men get in the car. When Turner left the video store and drove away in his green Mustang, the Taurus followed.
Moments later, Turner called 911 to report he was being followed by a man with a gun. The Sheriff's Office has declined to release the 911 recording, but the warrant includes a brief description.
"If he shoots his gun, I'm gone," Turner said to the dispatcher as he drove east on I-4, the warrant states, the Taurus just behind.
Moments later, Turner said, the Taurus pulled alongside him. They were approaching the I-75 overpass, under which Turner's Mustang would come to rest.
"Unknown noises are then heard (possibly gunfire or bullets striking the victim's vehicle)," according to the warrant. "After the unknown noises, the victim fell silent and no longer responded to a dispatcher."
Times staff writers Charles Scudder, Mike Brassfield and news researcher John Martin contributed.