Trooper from small town
Carr stayed free by staying invisible
"He jumped out and just started shooting," said Velboom.
Armed with an SKS assault-style rifle, Carr fired into the police cruiser. It happened so quickly that Crooks was unable to return fire, or even to pull his 9mm Beretta from his holster.
It's not clear how many times Crooks was hit, or where. But Carr was standing just steps away from the patrol car.
"He got real close. It was a real close shooting," said Velboom.
The colleagues racing to Crooks' side knew what they would find even before they got there. A passing trucker stopped and reached into Crooks' patrol car for the police radio, said witness Tim Bain.
"The guy in the rig ran up and grabbed the CB," Bain said. "He started screaming: "Officer down, officer down!' "
Crooks' life ended in a staccato burst of gunfire, but it began amid the quiet of a cattle farm near Lake Okeechobee. James Bradley Crooks grew up in Clewiston, a rural community of 20,000 that calls itself "America's Sweetest Town."
He was known as the boy who tried hard but never quite mastered the clarinet, whose good-natured face made it hard for some to believe that he now wore a trooper's hat and packed a pistol.
Lonzo Griffith, who taught Crooks at Clewiston High, said the trooper saw the world through a lens tinted by small-town innocence: "He wasn't the type that was rugged. He didn't distrust anybody."
Crooks left Clewiston because he wanted to become a police officer. He attended the University of South Florida, majoring in criminology.
When the state started an internship program allowing students to get both college credit and a trooper's job for completing the police academy, Crooks was the first to enroll.
"That says a lot," said William Blount, chairman of the criminology department. "He really wanted to be a trooper."
Crooks graduated from the academy with nearly perfect scores on his state certification tests. His first assignment was in the FHP's Land O'Lakes office. He moved to Carrollwood with his fiancee, Nadine LaMonte, a Hernando County schoolteacher. They were to be married in November.
At Deltona Elementary School in Spring Hill, he was known as "Trooper Brad" to his fiancee's second-grade class. He often helped out in the classroom, moving science projects and talking to the kids about life as a trooper.
The wedding was on Crooks' mind, too. When Johnson saw him for the last time last month, Crooks talked non-stop about his job and his fiancee.
Fellow troopers first knew Crooks was in danger Tuesday when they heard he was following Carr's white pickup on the interstate.
FHP Lt. Mike Guzman had spent the first part of the afternoon in Tampa, consoling officers who were investigating the slayings of the two city detectives.
But when Guzman heard Crooks on the radio, his grief changed to fear.
"I had a bad feeling," Guzman said. "The information came over the radio and I left immediately. I must have been going 110 mph."
But Guzman and the others couldn't arrive in time to put themselves between the innocent country boy and the hardened felon. Innocence lost, and Guzman wasn't ready to believe it.
"I had to take the sheet off of his face and look," Guzman said. "Just to make sure it really happened."
-- Times staff writers Amy Ellis, Kent Fischer and Robert King contributed to this report.