Man found dead in car had drug-troubled past

Published July 11, 2006

TAMPA - A body found swathed in blankets and stuffed in the backseat of a tan, faded Oldsmobile has been identified as a Dade City man with a history of drug problems.

Police discovered the body of Steven D. Chandler, 49, on Sunday afternoon in a Kmart parking lot near Florida Avenue. He was identified Monday by his fingerprints, police said.

The cause of his death is not yet known, pending toxicology reports that could take several weeks, said Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.

It is being investigated as an "unexplained death," McElroy said.

It's not clear how long Chandler's body had been in the car or how long ago he died, she said.

The body was discovered after a customer at a Shell gas station at N Florida and E Waters avenues saw flies and smelled an odor around the car.

Witnesses told police the car had been there several days, possibly since July 3. McElroy said the car belonged to Chandler.

Records show Chandler shared a Dade City address with his parents, Carol and Willis Chandler. McElroy said police had been in touch with the couple, who were vacationing in North Carolina.

Chandler's wife is Lequita J. Chandler, McElroy said. According to the Florida Department of Corrections records, Lequita Chandler is being held at the Suncoast Work Release Center, serving a five-year sentence for "sudden snatch robbery."

Steven Chandler has been arrested several times in the last few years, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

In December 2001, he was arrested by Dade City police and charged with distributing cocaine, a felony, records show. It was unclear how the case was resolved.

In January 2002, Dade City police accused Chandler of possessing a controlled substance without a prescription and cocaine possession, records show.

According to archives from the Tampa Tribune, police accused Chandler of stealing controlled medicine from an Eckerd drugstore on U.S. 301 by passing himself off as a customer waiting to pick up a prescription. He left the store with 28 cephalexin and 40 oxycodone pills, a police report said.

He pleaded guilty in July 2002 and was sentenced to a year of probation. In 2003, Kenneth City police accused him of violating his probation.

He was arrested again in April 2004, accused of stealing gasoline, records show. He pleaded no contest and was fined.

Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report. Abbie VanSickle can be reached at 813 226-3373 or vansickle@sptimes.com.