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Handgun used in I-75 killing

Investigators believe the bullet probably was fired from another moving vehicle. But there are no leads.

By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER
Published March 9, 2005


TAMPA - The bullet that killed David Neel as he drove along Interstate 75 Sunday morning came from a large-caliber handgun, according to sheriff's investigators and forensic experts.

"And based on our preliminary findings, the bullet could have been shot from a moving vehicle," Hillsborough sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said. "That's what we're leaning to right now."

Investigators continued Tuesday to search for answers in the mysterious death of Neel, a Pasco County husband and father found shot dead in the driver's seat of his gray and blue Ford F250 pickup.

Florida Highway Patrol troopers discovered Neel's body inside the truck when they were investigating reports that a pickup had veered off southbound I-75 at the ramp onto eastbound Interstate 4 and hit a tree.

Hillsborough sheriff's investigators were called to the scene. They determined that Neel, a 49-year-old security guard from Wesley Chapel, was shot in the chest after a single bullet went through the driver's side door just below the window.

What they still don't know is who shot Neel, or why.

Sheriff David Gee said it appears Neel was driving at the speed limit in the inside lane of southbound I-75 as he headed toward the Strawberry Festival in Plant City.

No witnesses reported seeing him drive erratically, but several people have called the sheriff's office to say they heard shots fired about the time the truck crashed.

Gee has asked the Hillsborough County medical examiner to determine how long Neel could have survived his injury, so that detectives can better pinpoint exactly where he was on the highway when he was shot. Dick Bailey of the medical examiner's office said Tuesday that the examination of Neel's body had not been completed.

Sheriff's investigators might shut down I-75 in the area of the shooting to comb over it again for clues. Detectives put that off Tuesday because of the rainy, windy weather, Carter said.

The Department of Transportation, meanwhile, put up two signs in both directions of I-75 seeking tips from the public. The electronic signs say "Help Solve a Murder - Dial 511."

Callers will hear a recording that gives the basic facts of the case and asks anyone with information to call the sheriff's office at 813-247-8200 or CrimeStoppers at (800) 873-TIPS.

Carter said the sheriff's office so far has received 19 telephone leads.

Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at 813 226-3373 or svansickler@sptimes.com

[Last modified March 9, 2005, 00:53:04]


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