Missing man now accused in shooting
By AMY HERDY, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA -- Tobaris Arrington spent his life in the shadow of his older stepbrother.
Now, high on cocaine in the car of a woman they kidnapped at gunpoint, the 17-year-old Arrington would take the lead, police said.
Arrington gave a chilling command to his 22-year-old stepbrother, Jabari "J.B." Armstrong. "Shoot her! Shoot her!" the teenager yelled, according to the account that victim Lai Chau later gave her father.
Armstrong ordered Chau to walk away from her pink 1998 Acura Integra and not look back, police said, then shot the 20-year-old University of South Florida student three times.
Incredibly, she lived.
Days later, on Dec. 21, Arrington's parents, Hank and Margaret Arrington, brought their youngest son, Tobaris, to detectives at police headquarters after he told them he pulled the trigger.
That night, the Arringtons returned to the police station with Armstrong, Mrs. Arrington's son from a previous relationship, saying he told them he had also taken part in the crime.
Armstrong, three months out of prison, was questioned and released. He has not been seen by his family since.
Tampa police spokesman Joe Durkin said detectives did not charge Armstrong that night because they needed time to gather evidence.
Unable now to find Armstrong, of 13409 La Place Circle, police have issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of attempted first-degree murder, kidnapping, carjacking and arson. They also have charged another man they say was an accomplice.
Police took Anthony Smith, 22, of 13409 Forest Hills Drive into custody Thursday afternoon as he visited a friend's apartment. Detectives charged Smith with being an accessory to attempted first-degree murder, grand theft auto, arson, tampering with evidence, trespassing and loitering.
Tampa police Detective Luis Adan said that about 11 p.m. on Dec. 13, Smith drove Arrington and Armstrong to Chau's gated apartment complex off N 30th Street near USF and waited nearby as the pair confronted the pre-med student as she drove into the complex. They forced her into the passenger seat of her car, Armstrong climbed behind the wheel and Arrington got in the back.
Smith, Arrington and Armstrong had used cocaine earlier, Arrington later told detectives, and were looking for victims to rob. After taking Chau and her car, they conferred down the road and decided on a plan, Adan said.
"Their intention was to strip the car," Adan said, "and things escalated. . . . The whole thing's senseless. I think they just lost control of what they were doing."
After shooting and leaving Chau in an alley behind Forest Hills Elementary on N Ola, the three tried to get rid of her car, Adan said.
They wanted to push it into the Hillsborough River from a location in Sulphur Springs, Adan said, but a locked gate foiled their plan.
So they drove the Acura to another apartment complex on E Sligh Avenue and set it on fire, using gasoline they bought that night, Adan said.
The three then took $40 from Chau's purse, bought more drugs and partied at a friend's house before going home, he said.
Friday, Arrington remained in juvenile detention, charged as an adult with attempted first-degree murder, kidnapping, carjacking and arson. If convicted, he could face life in prison. He claims now it was his stepbrother who pulled the trigger, police said.
Smith, convicted at age 15 of carjacking, remained in jail Friday without bail.
The crime replays bitter memories for Hank Arrington, who said that last month was not the first time he turned his stepson over to police.
In 1998, records show, Jabari Armstrong faced charges of carjacking and armed robbery. While on house arrest, Mr. Arrington said, his stepson cut the electronic monitoring device on his ankle with a steak knife and fled.
That day, a scared and crying Tobaris, then 14, called his parents with the news about his stepbrother, Mr. Arrington said. He scoured the town, found his stepson and turned him over to authorities.
Armstrong was sentenced to three years and eight months in prison for carjacking and armed robbery. After being released in September, he told his stepfather he wanted to work with him at his job as a tour bus driver.
Now, Mr. Arrington said, his wife is in shock and he spends his spare time again trying to find his stepson.
"I've been behind him an hour at times," Mr. Arrington said. "I haven't had a good night's sleep since this started."
He said he is sorry for Lai Chau, who is now out of the hospital and recovering with relatives, and who found out Friday she has lost the hearing in her right ear.
As for her father, Charlie Chau, who recently called Tobaris Arrington "an animal," Mr. Arrington said, "It's a tragic thing, and we are sorry."
"He's going through more hurt than I am," he said of Mr. Chau, "but at least his daughter will come back to him. My sons are lost."
- Times staff writer Dong-Phuong Nguyen and researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Amy Herdy can be reached at 226-3386 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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