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Details emerge as Pennsylvania police kill suspect in Pinellas Park orchestra member's slaying

A manhunt is underway in Alabama for 45-year-old Siddeeq Ma'Shooq, who is accused of killing musician Caroline Morton-Hicks in Pinellas Park. [Pinellas Park Police Department]
A manhunt is underway in Alabama for 45-year-old Siddeeq Ma'Shooq, who is accused of killing musician Caroline Morton-Hicks in Pinellas Park. [Pinellas Park Police Department]
Published Apr. 13, 2018

Pennsylvania authorities say a man wanted in the February slaying of a Pinellas Park orchestra member was shot and killed after he fled from an attempted traffic stop, crashed his vehicle and pointed a gun at officers.

Pinellas Park police also released new information about what transpired in the days and moments before Steven Brooks, also known as Siddeeq Ma'Shooq, killed trombonist Caroline Morton-Hicks.

Pennsylvania State Police say troopers tried to stop the 45-year-old Brooks for erratic driving on Interstate 79 in South Strabane late Thursday. They say Brooks, in a stolen Alabama truck, drove away and went the wrong way down a ramp leading to Interstate 70 before crashing his vehicle into a bridge support.

Brooks ran from the vehicle and scaled a fence before pulling out a gun. Authorities say he refused orders to drop it and they shot him. He was pronounced dead about 1:40 a.m.

None of the officers involved in the incident was injured.

Friday morning's shooting ended a 48-hour manhunt that started near Huntsville, Ala. on Wednesday when police and federal marshals there tried to take Brooks into custody. He rammed two marshal vehicles before driving away.

"He didn't want to go back to prison," said Brooks' older sister, Latonja Brooks, 50, on Friday. "He should have turned himself in, not going and shooting, suicide by cops."

Pinellas Park police say Brooks killed Morton-Hicks, his landlord, after she left orchestra practice at the Pinellas Park Performing Arts Center on Feb. 12. Investigators still don't know exactly what motivated Brooks to shoot his landlord. But at a Friday news conference, Pinellas Park police Sgt. Mike Lynch said for the first time that Brooks was indebted to Morton-Hicks. He had fallen behind on his rent.

Morton-Hicks, who owned several properties around Pinellas County through her company, Fribri Inc., had hired him as a handyman as a way to work off the debt, Lynch said. But shortly before the shooting, Morton-Hicks became unhappy with Brooks' work and cut his pay.

The day she was killed, before she attended rehearsal at the Pinellas Park Performing Arts Center, phone records show Morton-Hicks got a call from Brooks. After rehearsal, which ended about 8:45 p.m., she lingered in the parking lot, sitting in her car. She met Brooks, and the pair drove around Pinellas Park for about an hour.

Morton-Hicks, an avid adventurer, had kayak racks on the roof of her car, so detectives were able to track its movement through surveillance video along the route.

At one point the car stopped for about 25 minutes near 126th Avenue N and 44th Street. The woman's face later showed bruising, indicative of a struggle, Lynch said.

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Ultimately, the pair returned to the center parking lot just before 10 p.m. Brooks shot and killed her as she ran from the vehicle, Lynch said.

After the shooting, two witnesses heard Morton-Hicks' vehicle "tearing out" of the parking lot. Cell phone records show Brooks drove the vehicle about a half-mile away, where he unsuccessfully tried to set it on fire. A day later, Lynch said, Brooks went to Harvest, Ala. That's where his girlfriend's parents lived, Latonja Brooks said.

He remained there until Wednesday night, when police and federal marshals tried unsuccessfully to detain him.

"I don't know what made him snap," said the sister, who sat outside the door of her niece's home Friday, just three doors from the home her brother rented from Morton-Hicks. "He didn't think about non of us. He didn't think about his kids."

Steven Brooks was the youngest of five children and had two young children of his own, a daughter and son, his sister said.

Court records show Fribri Inc., now run by relatives of Morton-Hicks, filed an eviction complaint against Brooks on April 2. It alleged he had not paid his February rent of $675 for a house at 601 28th Ave. S in St. Petersburg. He was served a three-day notice in March, which he ignored, the complaint said.

Florida Department of Corrections records show Brooks had served several stints in prison for offenses including third-degree murder, felony battery and grand theft. He spent much of the last three decades in prison.

"We had the best mom," Latonja Brooks said. "I don't know where it went wrong."

Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or jsolomon@tampabay.com. Follow @ByJoshSolomon. Information obtained by staff writer Kathryn Varn and the Associated Press was used in this report.