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Three years later after horrific crash, Tampa parents keep mental health at forefront

Mikese Morse is poised to be found not guilty by reason of insanity for a 2018 death.
In a photo from her Facebook page, Khadeeja Morse poses with her son, Mikese Morse. "You will see other pics of him but this is the one I want you to remember," she wrote. "This is the face of the FAILURE of our mental health system." [Courtesy of Khadeeja Morse]
In a photo from her Facebook page, Khadeeja Morse poses with her son, Mikese Morse. "You will see other pics of him but this is the one I want you to remember," she wrote. "This is the face of the FAILURE of our mental health system." [Courtesy of Khadeeja Morse]
Published Apr. 13
Updated Apr. 13

TAMPA — It’s been almost three years since Mikese Morse was arrested. In that time, there was hardly a doubt that he wasn’t in his right mind when he drove off a New Tampa roadway and plowed into Pedro Aguerreberry and his two young sons, leaving the father dead and the boys injured.

Yet it took that long for Morse to be made well enough for court, and for the state to agree he should be found not guilty by reason of insanity in the murder case against him.

On Monday, a judge will begin the complicated task of deciding where Morse should go next. The state will ask that he be committed to a secure psychiatric hospital.

His parents, Michael and Khadeeja Morse, hope for a solution that incorporates private care, and a framework that would allow their son to eventually come home.

In an interview Tuesday with the Tampa Bay Times, the parents said they still feel the need to speak out to ensure that their son gets the treatment he needs, but also to keep a sense of urgency about how society fails people with mental illnesses.

Related: Mentally ill man accused of killing New Tampa bicyclist blurts out a puzzling confession

It was only after a tragedy happened that their son was able to get adequate care, they said. Help came through the criminal justice system.

“He should never have been criminalized,” Michael Morse said. “Had he been dealt with the correct way up front we would never have had to fight.”

The state wants to ensure that Morse won’t be a risk to himself or anyone else.

“Because of his mental illness, Mikese Morse clearly presents a danger to public safety,” State Attorney Andrew Warren said in a statement. “He drove 30 feet off the road to run down a father and sons who were riding bikes to go get ice cream. We need to make sure he doesn’t hurt anyone else as he’s getting treatment — that requires a secure facility, not letting him stop by the doctor’s office once in a while.”

Morse, 33, had never before been in trouble. Once a standout track athlete who had qualified in Olympic Trials, he’d grappled for a decade with a decline in his mental state. He’d been subject to the Baker Act, a Florida law that allows for people to be involuntarily committed to a mental health hospital if deemed a threat to themselves or others, his family said.

Days before the tragedy, Morse showed up in a Tampa police district office and struggled to tell an officer he needed help. He was committed to a mental health facility but was released after a short time. Shortly before the crash, Morse had posted videos to Instagram, in which he rambled incoherently about evil forces and “energies changing” inside him.

Pedro Aguerreberry, pictured here with wife Meghan and sons Lucas and Bennett, was bike riding along New Tampa Boulevard in 2018 when they were struck by a car driven by Mikese Morse, prosecutors said.  [Facebook]
Pedro Aguerreberry, pictured here with wife Meghan and sons Lucas and Bennett, was bike riding along New Tampa Boulevard in 2018 when they were struck by a car driven by Mikese Morse, prosecutors said. [Facebook]

On June 24, 2018, he was driving a Dodge Avenger along New Tampa Boulevard when he passed Aguerreberry. The father was riding a bicycle, towing his 3-year-old son in an attached section, while his 8-year-old son rode a bike alongside them. Morse made a U-turn then went off the road, across a swath of grass, and plowed into the three, according to Tampa police.

Officers later found Morse’s car abandoned in a nearby neighborhood. He was arrested at his parents’ home.

Mikese Morse is escorted into a Hillsborough County courtroom in 2018.  [JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times]
Mikese Morse is escorted into a Hillsborough County courtroom in 2018. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times] [ Times ]

Morse’s parents have decried what they see as the vilification of their son. They believe systemic racism influenced the way he was treated. They fear what could have become of him after the tragedy, had they not been vocal.

“If we weren’t educated,” his mother said, “if we didn’t have resources, if we weren’t the type of people who could speak out, Mikese would have been fed wholesale into the criminal justice system.”

A psychologist hired by the defense concluded that Morse was unaware that his actions were wrong. The psychologist’s report, which was provided to the Tampa Bay Times through a representative of Morse’s family, gives a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

After his arrest, Morse lingered in jail for months before a court officially declared that he wasn’t competent to stand trial. He spent a year in a state hospital, then returned to jail.

He takes medication as ordered, his family said. He has done well with treatment. Their regular Sunday dinners have been replaced by a Sunday phone call or jail visit. They say he’s able to communicate clearly with them.

“It feels almost like we have our son back,” his mother said.