Rampaging man dies during his arrest

Published May 26, 2007

TAMPA - Much of Chango A. Peeler's last day of life is a puzzle.

No one seems to know why he showed up on a stranger's porch, yelling that someone wanted him dead. Or why he then jumped head-first through the man's window. Or why he stopped breathing when police handcuffed him.

Peeler, 26, died Friday morning on a lawn in Tampa Heights after he collapsed as two police officers arrested him. Emergency crews tried to revive him, but they were unable to do so, said Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.

An autopsy will be performed on Peeler to determine what caused him to die.

Jim Crank only knows that Peeler's behavior scared him that morning and left his house in shambles.

"I ain't going to sleep tonight, " he said. "Those eyes."

Crank, a retired 69-year-old, moved into the white house with the turquoise trim at 210 Keyes Ave., long before gentrification started. He never had a problem with crime until Friday morning.

He had just returned home from watering flowers at grave sites as part of his church volunteer work when Peeler came up to the chain-link fence that rings Crank's home. He walked right onto the porch.

Peeler's eyes looked glassy, like the man didn't even see Crank, he recalled.

"Like a movie, like a horror movie, " Crank said.

Crank had no idea who Peeler was or what he wanted, but Peeler yelled that someone was after him, someone was trying to kill him.

Then, he dove, head-first, right through Crank's front window. Bits of glass flew everywhere, and Crank grabbed onto Peeler's shorts to try to stop him.

It didn't work. The shorts came off onto Crank's porch.

He went "through it just like Superman, " Crank said.

Inside, Peeler smashed Crank's collection of porcelain angels, broke the television and banged around in the back bedroom, leaving a trail of blood, Crank said.

Peeler then broke through another window, this time leaving from the side of the house.

By that time, Crank's neighbor had called police. When they arrived, they found Peeler in an alleyway behind Crank's house.

They struggled with him. One officer, Mike Rivera, struck Peeler's arm with a police baton, McElroy said.

The officers handcuffed Peeler and took him to the lawn of another home, where he was put onto the ground on his side, McElroy said.

Peeler's body was bleeding from the glass shards, and he began to have trouble breathing, McElroy said. Emergency crews came to help, but he died, she said.

A review of the situation revealed that officers did not violate any police procedures, so neither officer was put on administrative leave, she said.

Rivera, 45, joined the police department 11 years ago. The second officer, Gil Mercado, 45, joined the department in 1989.

Peeler has been arrested 11 times in Florida, according to state criminal records. His arrests include charges of vehicle theft, smuggling contraband into prison, burglary, marijuana possession and possession of a firearm by a felon, records show.

On Friday, police found marijuana in his pants pocket. His aunt told police he had a history of drug problems.

"Today he obviously appeared to be high on drugs, " McElroy said.

It's also unclear where Peeler had been living or where he was earlier that morning. His most recent address is with his mother on Belcher Road in Largo, but she told police he hadn't lived there in some time.

News researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Abbie VanSickle can be reached at (813) 226-3373.