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Drug sting, shooting jolt vacationers at motel

Published Feb. 23, 2006

Twelve-year-old Axel Hogberg will forever remember his vacation to Florida.

The police shooting. The man taken away on a gurney. The helicopters storming overhead.

Axel was one of the guests staying at Howard Johnson Express Inn and Suites Wednesday afternoon when an undercover police officer shot a man in the parking lot there after a drug sting turned violent.

"What happened? Did it have anything to do with drugs?" the sunburned Rhode Islander questioned a nearby officer as he, his mother and two sisters leaned against the yellow crime scene tape a few steps from their room.

The answer, police soon said, was yes.

Tremayne Yushfa Miller, 26, was transported to Tampa General Hospital with what police said were nonlife-threatening gunshot wounds to his upper body. He was said to be in stable condition Wednesday night.

About 3:30 p.m., an undercover squad was doing a routine patrol of the area around Howard Johnson, on N 50th Street, just south of Interstate 4. A woman approached two officers in an unmarked tan Dodge minivan and offered to get them some drugs.

"How about an ounce of cocaine?" the woman said, reported Tampa police spokesman Joe Durkin.

The woman made a phone call. Shortly after, a 1991 white Ford F-150 pickup carrying three men pulled into the parking lot. A passenger, Lance Bouvira Drew, 23, got out of the truck, talked with the woman and then went back to his truck to retrieve the drugs, Durkin said.

The two officers, quickly joined by four others in the undercover squad, emerged from the van and identified themselves as police, Durkin said.

At that moment, Miller put the Ford truck in gear and attempted to run over Officer Michael Johnson, 29, who was on foot, police said. Johnson, fearing for his life, fired several shots in the driver's direction, Durkin said.

The pickup crashed into room 175's window. While Miller received medical attention, Drew and fellow passenger Steve Mario Scott, 24, and the woman were each placed into cruisers. Drew, Miller and Scott face multiple felony charges, Durkin said, while Miller also faces a charge of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer. All three suspects have lengthy arrest records, state records show.

The woman was not arrested and her name was being withheld, Durkin said, because prosecutors plan to use her as a witness. The incident is still being investigated.

April Carter, 19, sat in the parking lot with tears running down her face as investigators tried to piece together what had happened. She said she'd gotten a call from Drew, her fiance, a few minutes earlier, while she and her sister were driving to the motel to pick him up after his construction shift.

"He called me and he said, "Baby, I'm at the Howard Johnson and I'm in the back of a police cruiser and I heard this boy Tremayne got shot,' " Carter said. But Drew's phone connection died and police weren't immediately telling her what transpired.

Any time an officer fires at a suspect, Durkin said, the matter is investigated internally and reviewed by the State Attorney's Office. Officer Johnson has served on the force three years.

Durkin said the gunfire appeared to have come only from Johnson. He could not immediately say how many shots were fired.

The street anticrime squad routinely patrols the area, he said.

Durkin said he was surprised by the female suspect's brazenness in offering drugs to strangers: "What's remarkable is she approaches these guys; she doesn't know if these are good guys or bad."

For the Hogberg family staying at the hotel before leaving on a cruise to Cozumel, the incident turned into a heck of a vacation story. The news reporters. The 14 police cruisers that zoomed into the parking lot all at once. Axel even got a picture of himself posing with an ambulance behind him.

Camila Hogberg, 42, said she always makes a little photo album of their trips, so her kids can remember everything they saw and did. This time, remembering should be no problem.

"The kids," she said, "will have nightmares for the rest of their lives."

Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report.