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Drugs for gun, records say

Before authorities say he killed a sheriff's deputy, Alfredie Steele Jr. traded drugs for an assault weapon and practiced his marksmanship, prosecutors' records show.

After the crime, the 19-year-old fled to Daytona Beach.

It doesn't sound like the same Steele friends around Lacoochee talked about in glowing terms following his June 3 arrest. But as one friend told detectives, Steele had changed in the past year.

Documents released Thursday by the State Attorney's Office trace the change, from September, when witnesses say he traded two grams _ about the weight of two paper clips _ of cocaine for a stolen SKS rifle, to the morning of June 1, when investigators say he fired that gun 13 times.

At least four bullets ripped into the patrol car of Lt. Charles "Bo" Harrison as he sat inside. Two struck the 57-year-old deputy in the back. Harrison, less than two weeks from retirement, wasn't wearing a bullet-resistant vest.

Within minutes of the shooting, Steele's cousin, Nathaniel Vanzant, said Steele was shaking him awake, stinking of alcohol. While his exact words were removed from Vanzant's statement under state law, an arrest report says Vanzant told deputies his drunk cousin confessed to him.

Investigators also say sometime shortly before the attack, Steele tested his weapon, an assault rifle with a 30-round magazine, on a fireplace at a picnic pavilion in the woods west of Lacoochee. Forensics experts found bullet fragments that match the bullets taken from Harrison's body.

Indentations from the fireplace "appear to have been recently done," investigator William Ruzin wrote.

In the hours after Harrison died, witnesses say Steele disappeared. Steele wouldn't say how, but he ended up in Daytona Beach, where he got the names of dead friends tattooed on his body, then got a ride home from National Football League linebacker Darren Hambrick.

In an interview with detectives and a prosecutor, Vanzant said the night Harrison died began with friends hanging out. Vanzant said he was just going to smoke some marijuana and "chill." But Steele wanted to party.

Steele borrowed a beat-up Mercury and drove to Rumors nightclub, where he loaded up on a mixture of Hennessey cognac and a neon-colored liquor called Hypnotiq.

"He was drunk," friend Reginald Morgan told investigators.

Back at the house, Vanzant said he fell asleep on a couch. He woke with a start.

"It was my little cousin right there in my face," Vanzant said. "He was close to me, and he was, like, "Cuz, Cuz, get up, man,' like really excited . . . He was moving real fast and stuff and he smelled like booze real bad."

That's when investigators say Steele admitted to shooting Harrison.

"I really didn't _ halfway didn't even believe it at first," Vanzant said. "So I was like, damn, you know what I mean? Damn, Cuz, boy, this is some serious s--- right here, boy."

Another friend, Tobey Brockington, heard the confession, Vanzant said.

There was chaos. Vanzant said Steele was acting irrational, and everyone was scared.

"I am laying there thinking, man, the police could kick in the door or anything, you know what I mean," Vanzant said.

And Steele disappeared.

Steele's mother, Regina Clemmons, raised Vanzant along with her six children. She said she knew something was up as her network of friends learned of the shooting in the predawn hours and started doing "kid checks," making sure of their whereabouts.

Her son was missing, and Vanzant was acting strange, she said.

"I just told him, "I done tried to teach you the right thing to do all your life. You do what you feel like is the right thing to do,' " Clemmons said she told Vanzant. "He said, I got to talk to the police."

Vanzant said authorities might set him up for the killing, but Hambrick, a family friend, was there. He said he trusted Dade City police Chief Phil Thompson and could arrange a meeting. He drove Vanzant to the police station, and in the chief's office, along with fire Chief Bob Cabot, Vanzant met with sheriff's detectives.

And detectives went looking for Steele.

His mother said she didn't know where he was. With Hambrick at the house later Sunday, the phone rang. It was Steele. He was in Daytona Beach.

"I told him I had done talked to the police and they had gave me 24 hours to get him back where he need to be, that he got to come talk to the police," Clemmons testified.

Hambrick offered to drive, and together they headed across the state, Hambrick driving 80 mph.

But Steele wasn't where he was supposed to be.

He called Hambrick's cell phone. He was in a tattoo parlor.

"I'm like, what in the hell is he doing at a tattoo parlor?" Clemmons said. "My child got to be crazy for sure."

They found him at a Burger King and headed home. Steele sat in the back of Hambrick's sport utility vehicle. Sometimes he wept, but he wouldn't say why, his mother said.

Hambrick drove straight to the Sheriff's Office in Dade City, but deputies took Steele home after talking with him.

Hours later, Steele told his mother he needed a lawyer. Then he called detectives.

On June 3, authorities charged him with homicide. Nearly three weeks later, a grand jury formally charged Steele with first-degree murder.

_ Chase Squires covers east Pasco courts. He can be reached at (352) 521-5757, ext. 27 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6108, then 27. His e-mail address is squiressptimes.com.

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