New details in FL murder suspect's multistate crime spree

New details in FL murder suspect's multistate crime spree
(Source: WAFF 48 News)
(Source: Madison County Sheriff's Office)
(Source: Madison County Sheriff's Office)
The victim (Source: Facebook)
The victim (Source: Facebook)
(Source: WAFF 48 News)
(Source: WAFF 48 News)
(Source: WAFF 48 News)
(Source: WAFF 48 News)

(WAFF) - From Florida, to Alabama, then Pennsylvania, a suspected killer's desperate attempts to stay on the run finally come to an end in a deadly confrontation with police.

Steven Brooks was shot and killed by state troopers near Pittsburgh Thursday night after a long, dangerous chain of events.

He'd been hiding out in Madison County for weeks.

Brooks, accused of murdering his landlord in Florida, found a way to dodge authorities in Harvest and ended up losing his life in a showdown with Pennsylvania state troopers.

"Residents in Madison County and Limestone County can feel at ease that this person is no longer a threat to anybody around here," said Lt. Donny Shaw with the Madison County Sheriff's Office.

Brooks, 45, of St. Petersburg, Florida, traveled more than 600 miles in an attempt to avoid arrest. He had already served serious time stemming from a long list of crimes, including a deadly hit and run.

In Washington County, Pennsylvania, state troopers spotted a truck driving erratically and pulled it over late Thursday night, not knowing that a wanted fugitive was behind the wheel.

He sped off the from the traffic stop and started going the wrong way in traffic on Interstate 70.

"It initiated a dangerous high speed vehicle pursuit that traveled westbound in the eastbound lanes of Interstate 70 against oncoming traffic. As troopers pursued the suspect, he attempted to traverse the grass median of the highway and crashed into a bridge abutment. After his vehicle became disabled, the suspect exited and fled on foot down a steep embankment and onto the interstate ramp below," said Capt. Joseph Ruggery with the Pennsylvania State Police.

Troopers say Brooks ignored repeated calls for him to drop his pistol, which was loaded. The .40 caliber Beretta pistol was reported stolen in Florida in 2014.

"When the suspect turned towards the troopers with the pistol still in his hand, deadly force was employed to stop his actions," Cpt. Ruggery added. "Brooks was struck several times before he could fire any return rounds at the troopers."

Brooks died of multiple gunshot wounds at the scene. The incident is under investigation in coordination with the Washington County District Attorney's Office.

It all started when the U.S. Marshals Service tracked Brooks to Madison County.

On Wednesday night, the Marshals and local law enforcement surrounded a home on Logan Berry Lane in Harvest. Brooks barricaded himself inside the house.

Police started talking to Brooks over the phone, but he cut off communication after dark. He suddenly drove out of the garage in a vehicle, striking two U.S. Marshals' car.

A pursuit started and continued to an area of Yarbrough and Love Branch Road several miles away near the Madison County and Limestone County Line.

Brooks drove onto a wooded property. His getaway car caught on fire and he was able to get out of it and dodge police. A perimeter was set up to block off the area.

Multiple K-9 units were out and the state helicopter was up with infrared optics. An airplane was also used in the search.

During that time, Brooks was able to get away and ran for several hours, covering about eight miles, and found a truck to steal in Limestone County.

"This individual was wanted for murder, he was accused of murder. He'd been cornered in twice in Madison County. He was in fight or flight mode. He was a desperate person, desperate means. It appears that he wasn't going to give up until an unfortunate situation of having to lose his life occurred in Pennsylvania," Shaw explained.

Brooks took a Chevy Silverado and headed north.

"The consequences for him was to go back and stand trial and face the death penalty or be in prison for the rest of life. He was in a desperate situation. He had a little bit of an advantage being ahead of us and when the vehicle he was driving stopped and burst into flames, he started running," Shaw stated.

Nearly 26 hours later, Brooks was driving the same pickup truck on Interstate 70 in southwestern Pennsylvania when he was stopped by troopers.

"He would again flee from law enforcement and he would again endanger many innocent motorists as he operated that pickup truck in a reckless manner that showed extreme disregard for human life," Ruggery said.

Brooks was wanted for the murder of Caroline Morton-Hicks, 59, of St. Petersburg, Florida. She was a talented musician. According to news reports out of Florida, Morton-Hicks loved playing her trombone and rehearsing and performing with groups across Pinellas County. She was killed after leaving practice with the Pinellas Park Civic Orchestra at the Pinellas Park Performing Arts Center on the night of Feb. 12.

Brooks was her tenant.

"Ms. Morton-Hicks owned several rental properties here in Pinellas County. She rented one of those properties to the suspect. He was behind in rent and had been working for the victim as a handyman at her rental properties as a way to work off the rent he owed," explained Pinellas Park police spokesman Sgt. Mike Lynch. "She became unhappy with the work he was doing and she lowered the amount of money that she was paying to him. He was not happy about this and this led her to begin the eviction process against the suspect."

Lynch says cell phone information showed that the victim received a phone call from Brooks to her right before her orchestra practice that night. She was seen on surveillance video from multiple businesses in her car with Brooks and they were driving around the north end of Pinellas Park for a period of time and she received several injuries during that time.

They went back to the location where her orchestra practice was held and witnesses saw and heard her run from car and watched her being chased into the street where she was shot and killed.

According to police, the suspect got into her car, drove from the scene and then dumped the vehicle a half mile away.

"He tried to set it on fire but failed to do so," Lynch said.

Police recovered the car with her cell phone inside and other evidence, including Brooks' DNA evidence which was already in the database for prior convicted felons.

On March 28, an arrest warrant obtained for Brooks. Authorities learned that he had fled the day after the murder to Harvest where he'd been hiding out for nearly two months.

"Following that homicide, Brooks had fled the state of Florida and had been residing with his estranged girlfriend in Madison County," Ruggery stated during a press conference Friday.

Police hope Caroline Morton-Hicks' family can now have some closure.

Her relatives asked for privacy as they try to process the events of the week leading to the deadly officer involved shooting in Pennsylvania.

Ruggery said the incident epitomizes the fact that there's no such thing as a "routine traffic stop" for members of law enforcement.

Court records from Pinellas County, Florida state Brooks was convicted of third-degree murder in 1991 for a fatal hit-and-run in 1989. He was sentenced to 20 years with concurrent 10 year sentences for grant theft motor vehicle, felony leaving the scene of a crash and one other traffic offense. The record states: "He was sentenced as a habitual violent felony offender based on his record already."

In Madison County, the sheriff's office acknowledge National Public Safety Telecommunicators week, thanking 911 dispatchers for helping law enforcement in situations like the search for Brooks.

"They take the calls, give us the information to get there, keep giving us updated information, and once we're there, they keep checking on our safety and if we don't answer that status check, they get someone to check on us. Without them, we wouldn't be able to do what we do for the citizens in Madison County. We respect them a lot and we appreciate everyone at the 911 center," Shaw said.

All week, Huntsville Police, Madison police, HEMSI, Madison County 911, Huntsville Fire & Rescue and the sheriff's office provided meals for each shift at the 911 center.

"We are proud of the job they do," Shaw added.

According to the Madison County Sheriff's Office, Steven Brooks "estranged girlfriend" who went to pick him up in Florida the day after the murder of his landlord and brought him back to her home in Harvest will not face any charges in the case.

Two other people who live at the house did not know anything about the Florida killing and will also not face any charges.

All three were interviewed by the sheriff's office and Pinellas Park, FL police and there's no indication they knew anything about Brooks being on the run and escaping Florida to hide from police after deadly shooting in February. They did not know he was wanted, according to investigators.

Officials also pointed out that Pinellas Park police did not release that they had identified a suspect in the deadly shooting of Caroline Morton-Hicks. The warrant was issued for Brooks on March 28 and they tracked him to Madison County, but that development was not made public until the standoff and manhunt.

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