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Driver dies after piece of concrete hits windshield

Brooksville police think the death is drug related because crack cocaine was found in the car and the incident occurred in an area where drug activity is suspected.

A 32-year-old Spring Hill man died early Tuesday in what officials at the Brooksville Police Department called a drug-related killing.

Clarence A. Coleman, of 7321 Pinehurst Drive, died after a large chunk of concrete shattered the windshield of the 1996 Pontiac Grand Am he was driving, sending the car into the woods at the north end of Union Street about 2:30 a.m., Brooksville police Chief Ed Tincher said.

Tincher estimated the concrete weighed about 15 pounds and, tracing its shape with his hands, outlined an object roughly the size of a small watermelon. It was unclear Tuesday whether Coleman died when hit by the concrete or when the car struck the tree.

Tincher said a small amount of crack cocaine found in the car indicated the killing was drug-related. Also, the crash "occurred in an area frequented by certain people" believed to be drug dealers, he said.

Police investigators suspect more than one person was involved in the killing.

Tincher said a day after the killing that there was little more information to release about the death. "Right now we are looking for more than one person," he said.

Tincher encouraged anyone with information about the incident to call the police department at 754-6800 or the anonymous tips line at 754-6825.

Coleman was found after the Pontiac Grand Am he was driving crashed into a tree at the north end of Union Street early Tuesday. Investigators think someone threw a chunk of concrete at the car's windshield, which caused Coleman to lose control and crash.

"The investigation is still ongoing," Tincher said, refusing to comment on whether police knew who threw the concrete. "We have leads we will follow. We do believe that drugs played a part in this."

Early Tuesday, residents of the nearby apartments reported a traffic accident. After some initial confusion over the location, officers found the car about 40 feet into the woods north of where Union Street meets Liberty Street in a L-shaped intersection. Brooksville police Capt. Terry Chapman said the car is registered to the parents of Coleman's girlfriend.

The car was headed north on Union Street when the concrete came through the windshield, Chapman said. The Pontiac traveled 400 feet through a stop sign and into the woods, knocking over a thick wooden pole and a small pine tree before crashing into a larger tree. On Tuesday evening, scattered pieces of plastic and glass and deep tire tracks in the rain-soaked dirt still outlined the car's path.

If Coleman's death turns out to be a murder, it would be the first in Hernando County in more than a year.

Records show that Coleman lived in the Tallahassee and McIntosh areas in the 1980s before moving to Hernando County about six years ago. He was born in Syracuse, N.Y., and had a tattoo on his right arm that read, "New York Love." A woman at Coleman's home on Tuesday afternoon said he had three sons, ages 12, 4 and 3, two of whom lived with him. The woman did not want to give her name or comment further.

Coleman had several run-ins with authorities across Florida in the past. In 1986, he was arrested on burglary and loitering and prowling charges in Hillsborough County. Three years later, Leon County authorities picked him up on robbery charges. The outcomes of those cases were not available Tuesday.

In 1996, he pleaded no contest in Pinellas County Court to grand theft. He was sentenced to 84 days in jail to be followed by one year of probation. In 1998, he was picked up on a misdemeanor battery charge in Hernando County that was later dismissed.

Officers say they had never seen Coleman in the area before, but several residents of the apartments near the scene of the crash said the car in which Coleman died was regularly seen in the area during the late afternoon and evening.

Last month, Tincher called the Hillside Estates area, near where Coleman died, one of the county's primary drug-dealing areas. In June, the Brooksville Police Department and the Brooksville Housing Authority came up with a plan to push drug dealers out of Hillside.

Part of that plan was erecting a barricade on Union Street to prevent drug buyers from driving in and out of the complex from E Jefferson Street.

Tincher said the orange and white traffic barricades at Union and Liberty streets had nothing to do with Coleman's death. Though some residents said drug dealers have simply adapted to the barricades by having spotters with portable phones alert them when police patrol the area, Tincher said police will continue to place heavy emphasis on curbing the drug and prostitution activity there.

Rather than viewing Coleman's death as a setback in this heightened enforcement effort, Tincher said it simply reinforced the necessity of the operation.

"(Coleman's death) shows the need for us to be in that area and try to make a difference," he said.

_ Times staff writer Mike Brassfield contributed to this report.