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Man arrested in road rampage

When he got into a car, police say, he was armed and on the edge. Christopher Edward Harris, left, fatally shot one motorist in the neck, and he injured another, police say. Now Harris faces murder and attempted murder charges.

By JANE MEINHARDT

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 11, 2000


CLEARWATER -- Christopher Edward Harris was a man poised for violence, police said.

When a car pulled in front of him last Thursday night, officers said, he grabbed his new .357 revolver, held it out the window and fired twice.

Cesar Perez-Hernandez, 20, died almost instantly of a gunshot to the neck.

Harris wasn't finished, police said.

An hour later, he shot 22-year-old Danielle Laprease in the neck as he drove on Missouri Avenue, police said. If not for a warning from a friend, Laprease also might have been killed.

Late Tuesday, after an anonymous tip, Clearwater police arrested Harris, 18.

Both victims were strangers to Harris, police said, motorists who simply got in the way of a man on the edge.

"They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time," said police Capt. Jeff Patterson. "The only provocation was Mr. Harris' perception that they cut too close in front of him. His violence was escalating."

Harris, of 2100 Nursery Road, Apt. D-10, was charged with first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder. He was being held without bail Wednesday at the Pinellas County Jail.

He also was charged with robbery in an April 10 home invasion in which an elderly Clearwater couple was pistol-whipped by an intruder at their mobile home. Harris is a suspect in several other armed robberies, Patterson said.

"He carries a gun and uses it," he said. "We have reports that he goes out at night and fires off a few rounds for good measure."

A high school dropout and a former employee at a fast-food restaurant, Harris has a criminal record that includes arrests for underage possession of alcohol, possession of marijuana, trespassing and littering, court records show.

The tall, slender young man recently bought his revolver.

"The gun was delivered to him before the shootings," Patterson said. "It was bought second-hand through a private citizen." Patterson would not elaborate.

Jail records show Harris lives with his mother, Vicki L. Harris. A woman at the apartment Wednesday refused to comment.

Harris was driving his mother's 1995 white Ford Contour when Perez-Hernandez was killed, police said.

Patterson said Harris, who was followed by friends in another car, was southbound on Starcrest Drive, heading to his apartment to drop off his mother's car.

Perez-Hernandez, of 24985 U.S. 19 N, turned his Ford Fiesta from Rainbow Drive onto northbound Starcrest Drive, and into the path of Harris' car.

Perez-Hernandez was shot as the two cars passed, police say.

That was at 10:17 p.m. According to Patterson, Harris dropped off his mother's car and got into the back seat of the car that had been following him.

At 11:12 p.m., Laprease encountered that car as she drove her Ford Tempo north on Missouri Avenue. Also northbound, the other car sped up, got in front of her and slammed on the brakes several times.

In the 1400 block of Missouri, a man police say was Harris pulled a gun and fired four shots from the car at Laprease.

"I never saw the gun," said Laprease, of Largo. "Actually, it sounded like a bottle exploded in my ear. A friend that was with me had pulled my head down when the gun fired."

A bullet ripped into her neck and exited her shoulder. She was taken to Bayfront Medical Center for treatment and released Saturday.

Patterson said the friends who were with Harris and witnessed both shootings cooperated after detectives found them Tuesday.

None had been charged. The gun involved was recovered at a friend's house.

On Tuesday night, Laprease did something she has not done in a long time. She went to church.

"The bullet just scraped my spine," Laprease said Wednesday. "I'm lucky to be here. I just think I should go to church."

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