On a Sunday morning, a father and his two young sons went for a bike ride in the New Tampa suburbs. The boys, 3 and 8, wore bike helmets to keep them safe.
The man driving the Dodge was just five days out of a mental health facility. This time he had been involuntarily committed after he walked into a police station, said some bizarre things and warned a cop he might hurt someone. Sometime that Sunday, he posted wild-eyed, ominous ravings on Instagram. His parents would later say they tried for years to get him the right help.
What happened next is the definition of madness.
Police say 30-year-old Mikese Morse — once a college athlete and an Olympic hopeful — made a U-turn, crossed a lane of oncoming traffic, drove over the grass onto the bike path, stepped on the gas and hit the family. Pedro Aguerreberry, 42, died and his sons were injured. They will recover, but without their father.
Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan told reporters Morse did this deliberately, purposely, intentionally. The chief also said there was no evidence Morse knew the people he hit — no simmering conflict, no hint of the usual motives of money, anger, jealousy, hate, revenge. "Random," was the word the chief used. "For no apparent reason whatsoever," he said.
A question, then: Did a man die at least in part because of a lack of adequate mental health care for someone who clearly needed it, not only for himself but also to keep the world safe from him?
Did our state — ranked in recent years next to last in spending on mental health — play a part?
Morse's parents told the Times' Dan Sullivan they went to doctors and sought treatment over the years as their son's disturbing episodes came and went. They said he was Baker Acted — committed for assessment because he posed a danger to himself or others — at least four times. They said the last time, when he was sent to a Tampa facility called Gracepoint, they wanted him kept longer until he was more stabilized — especially after he attacked a lawyer who came to see him there.
By law, someone can be held up to three days. A hearing is required for longer. Morse was released after a week, his parents said.
Officials at Gracepoint can't talk about any of this because of health care privacy laws. Maybe an investigation will reveal some critical error there, or maybe Gracepoint did everything it legally could. Maybe you are of the opinion that Morse and Morse alone is responsible no matter what was going on in his head.
And maybe an overburdened and underfunded mental health care system shares the blame.
Here's the irony: We will all pay for Morse. Here's the irony: We will all pay for Morse. And the cost of inadequate care often proves far greater than the cost of adequate care.
His competence to stand trial — determined by whether he can understand the proceedings and help his lawyer — will be an issue. In those cases, a defendant often gets adequately medicated in jail — irony there, too — until he's found competent. If Morse is then convicted and sent to prison, or if he is institutionalized in a mental hospital, you and I pay for that, too.
And how tragic it will be if it turns out that it could have cost the world so much less than it did.