CLEARWATER — Ronald Joseph Jackson Jr. said he had no idea that his friend was going to gun down three people early Saturday. And he had no idea the same friend would threaten his life and force Jackson to help him flee.
"There was this crazy guy with a gun, covered in blood, telling me I need to get him out of there," Jackson said.
He drove Alexander Epstein, nicknamed was "Ace," away from the scene because he was afraid, Jackson said.
"I needed to protect me and my family and whoever else would have gotten in Ace's way," said Jackson, 18.
Benjamin Andrew Kubes, 20, and Ibrahim Sorie Kamara, 22, were killed that day. A third man, Dennis Alphonse Miyawa, 20, was taken to a hospital with life-threatening injuries, but he is expected to recover, friends say.
Epstein, 19, was shot and killed later Saturday by undercover deputies outside a Clearwater Beach home.
"Every single person that died were my friends," Jackson said.
Here's what happened, according to Jackson:
Jackson, Epstein and Kamara, who went by the name "Mo," all came to the party together. Kamara was sitting in the back seat next to Epstein, and another guy, known as "C-Note," was driving Jackson's car.
When they got to the party, everything seemed mellow.
"There was a keg in the back," Jackson said. "Everyone was kickin' and having a good time."
About 20 or 30 minutes later, Jackson, who was in the kitchen, heard shots.
"The entire room was just smoke, gunpowder and blood," Jackson said. "Everybody was screaming and running."
By the time Jackson got to his car, Epstein was waiting for him.
Epstein ordered Jackson to drive him to Clearwater Beach. He had a gun in his lap and pointed the barrel at Jackson.
"He got out of the car and says, 'If you snitch on me, I'll kill you,' " Jackson said. He also threatened to kill Jackson's family.
Since the incident, Jackson said he has been receiving death threats.
Jackson said he was jumped Monday by several guys, who he thinks were Kamara's friends.
They told him that if Jackson hadn't brought Epstein to the party, Kamara would still be alive.
But Kamara was his friend, too. "I just wish that Mo didn't get shot. … He was a really good guy," Jackson said.
Epstein was no stranger to guns, according to police and court records.
In October, Epstein was involved in a fight, a police report said. The victim told police that he saw Epstein at a party two weeks earlier and Epstein was showing off a handgun that he had in his waistband.
"Ace has always showed off his guns," said Sharise Johnson, 21, his former roommate.
In November, Johnson filed for an injunction for protection against Epstein. She says Epstein threatened her life after they got in an argument.
"He yelled in front of my mom that he was going to … shoot me," Johnson wrote in her petition.
She said he had guns, including a 9mm, a .22-caliber and a .380-caliber.
"He's crazy, he has four guns and he keeps threatening my life and just me in general!" she wrote.
Johnson dropped the case, she said. Now, she says, she didn't really think Epstein would follow up on his threats. She filed the case, "just to be safe."
Meanwhile, Miyawa is on the mend at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg. He thanked friends who have supported him through the World Wide Web.
A You Tube video shows Miyawa on a gurney in the recovery area. "I'd like to thank everybody who showed up and helped me through this stupid incident that went down," Miyawa said.
Diego Salazar, who shot the video Monday afternoon, said Miyawa was watching the Simpsons when he and four other friends showed up.
Miyawa is doing pretty well, but it's going to be a long recovery, he said.
"It's going to be a few days before they can consider letting him go. He's in good spirits. That's what Dennis is known for," said Salazar, 20.
Lorri Helfand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4155.