3rd suspect arrested in student's shooting
By TAMARA LUSH, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA -- Wanted for the shooting and carjacking of a young woman, Jabari "J.B." Armstrong hoped to avoid arrest by staying at a different place every few days. This weekend, he checked into room 234 of the Red Roof Inn on Busch Boulevard.
On Monday, police found his hiding place.
Armstrong is the third suspect to be arrested in the Dec. 13 shooting and carjacking of Lai Chau, a 20-year-old USF student. Although Chau was shot in the head three times, lost a lot of blood and nearly died, her doctors said she made a miraculous recovery. She is now recovering at her father's Largo home after spending two weeks in the hospital.
Chau, who has been battling dizziness and a fever, said through a neighbor on Monday that she was happy that Armstrong was off the streets.
His stepbrother, 17-year-old Tobaris Arrington, and an acquaintance, 22-year-old Anthony Smith, were previously arrested in connection with the case.
An anonymous tip led a countywide fugitive task force to the motel shortly after noon on Monday, and Armstrong, 22, was arrested.
"We moved in swiftly and apprehended him before he had the chance to resist," said Tampa police spokesman Joe Durkin.
Chau told police that she was attacked when she entered her apartment complex at 10610 N 30th St. She parked her pink Acura Integra near her first-floor apartment and was about to get out of the car when two men ran toward her. One pointed a gun at her head and told her to scoot into the passenger seat, she said.
One man got into the driver's seat and another into the back seat, and at one point, they stopped to talk to a third man following in another car.
They took $40 from her purse and stopped behind Forest Hills Elementary on N Ola Street. The driver told her to get out, police said, and she started walking.
That's when one of the men -- police say it was Armstrong -- shot Chau three times in the head. The men drove off and later torched her car, police said. Chau crawled to a nearby home and pleaded for help.
Arrington told police that he, Armstrong and Smith -- the man in the other car -- had used cocaine before the attack and were looking for victims to rob so they could buy more drugs. Arrington's father turned him in to police just days after the attack.
According to detectives, Armstrong acknowledged on Monday that he shot Chau and expressed remorse.
On the same day that Arrington was arrested, Armstrong spoke with police, but they did not arrest him then because they did not have enough evidence. A warrant was later issued for his arrest.
Armstrong was released from state prison in September, having served a three-year sentence for carjacking and robbery, records show.
Armstrong and his stepbrother, Arrington, were charged with attempted first-degree murder, kidnapping, carjacking and arson. Smith was charged with being an accessory to attempted first-degree murder, grand theft auto, arson, tampering with evidence, trespassing and loitering. All three men are being held without bail at the county jail.
Armstrong understands that he could spend life in prison if he is convicted of shooting Chau, said Tampa police Detective Luis Adan.
"It is a miracle that she's still alive; she's very lucky," said Adan. "We work just as hard on all of our cases, but in this case, the difference is that the victim is still alive, that we can actually still talk to our victim, and let them know we've arrested the person responsible."
Chau's father, Charlie Chau, said his daughter can recover in peace now that Armstrong has been arrested:
"I am happy for my family, happy for everyone who has a family, because as long as he was out there, society was not safe. The longer he is in prison, the better."
-- Staff writer Dong-Phuong Nguyen contributed to this report.
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