TAMPA - Manny Nieves was behind the wheel of his friend Alyssa Aracich's red Pontiac Sunfire Friday evening as they and another friend prepared to go to McDonald's.
But before they could leave, a Ford F-150 pickup came down Chadbourne Drive. When the truck stopped, deputies say, Andre Rodne Watkins got out of the passenger side and started shooting.
"The first shot came at me and I ran," Nieves, 22, said this morning.
His male friend also made it out of the Pontiac unscathed.
Aracich did not. The 19-year-old Chamberlain High School graduate died outside 10536 Chadbourne Drive.
Brian Troche came out of his house after the gunfire stopped and tried to help Aracich.
"I was shaking her and she was gone," Troche said.
Nieves said he knows Watkins but wouldn't say how.
He and Troche say they plan to erect a cross near the spot where Aracich died.
This afternoon, the only marker was the puddle of shattered glass from the Pontiac's passenger-side window, the remnants of a rampage that left Aracich dead, two people critically injured and Watkins behind bars.
The crime spree erupted staccato-like, with a carjacking and shootings that zigzagged from Carrollwood to Town 'N Country before culminating in an arrest more than six hours later at a Plant City gas station.
Stooped over and shuffling, a shackled Watkins wailed and moaned as he was led to jail by deputies about 5 a.m. today. Most of his outbursts were incomprehensible, although he was heard to say, "Oh, God."
Watkins, 53, is being held at Orient Road Jail on a raft of charges, including first-degree murder, carjacking, kidnapping and attempted first-degree murder. His first court appearance is scheduled for Sunday.
Deputies say Watkins got into the Ford F-150 outside a 7-Eleven at Linebaugh Avenue and Plantation Boulevard about 6:30 p.m. Friday. The pickup's driver, whose name has not been released, has known Watkins for about five years and let him in the vehicle.
But once in the passenger seat, Watkins pulled a .45-caliber handgun from his waistband, pointed it at the driver and ordered him to drive Chadbourne Drive, according to an arrest report. There, he took the truck's keys and got out.
Authorities say Watkins walked up to the Pontiac and began shooting. Nieves and his friend, who has not been named, were in the front and Aracich was in the back. When Watkins fired one shot through the windshield, Nieves and his friend bolted.
Watkins fired several more shots as he chased Nieves and his friend, the report states, but the pair escaped unharmed.
Aracich was mortally wounded.
"Most of the family is in shock and disbelief that this could happen at 6:30 in the afternoon," said the teen's aunt Brenda Geoghagan, a spokeswoman for Tampa International Airport. "It's not like it was 2 a.m. in the morning."
Aracich was about six months into a program to become a medical billing specialist. An only child, she was living with her mother and her mother's fiancée in the West Shore area, Geoghagan said. She was familiar with the area where she was shot because she lived with her father in a nearby subdivision after her parents divorced 10 years ago and still had many friends there.
"She's in the neighborhood she grew up in," Geoghagan said.
She said the family knows of no connection between Aracich and Watkins; investigators asked for the telephone numbers of Aracich's friends.
After shooting Aracich, deputies say, Watkins returned to the pickup truck and forced the driver to return to the convenience store, where he got back into his car, a Pontiac GTO. He then drove to his mother's house at 10806 Wingate Drive, where he switched to a 1999 Chevrolet Malibu and drove to a home in the 10900 block of Brightside Drive.
When Areil Love answered the door there, Watkins opened fire on him, deputies say.
Neighbors said a wounded Love came to them for help; they called 911.
Love, 27, was listed in critical condition today at St. Joseph's Hospital.
Deputies say Watkins then drove to a BP gas station at 5919 W. Linebaugh Ave.
Watkins asked the clerk, Akbar Alwani, for cigarettes but then shot him without warning, store owner Bobby Ali said.
Alwani, 57, was in critical condition today at St. Joseph's.
Ali said deputies called him to come to the station after the shooting.
"My first thought was that it was a robbery," Ali said. "But then I saw the cash drawer wasn't open."
He said Watkins isn't among his store's crowd of regulars. Ali believes Alwani was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"He was just in the path of this person," he said.
The shooter's path then led to Bruce Demetrius Jackson, who was in the front yard of a home at 8583 Briar Grove Circle.
Watkins got out of the Chevy Malibu and opened fire, chasing Jackson through the house, deputies say. Jackson, 32, ran to safety through the back door. He told investigators he knows Watkins, the arrest report states.
The house on Briar Grove was quiet this afternoon. One living-room window lay shattered in the yard, the gap covered by a piece of plywood.
For hours Friday night, deputies scoured the area by land and air. Residents were ordered to stay inside their homes.
About 1 a.m. today, a deputy in an unmarked vehicle spotted Watkins pumping gas at a Marathon gas station at Interstate 4 and Forbes Road, the sheriff's office said. The deputy called for backup and Watkins was arrested, authorities say, but not before he pushed deputies.
Watkins has been arrested on numerous charges in the past 14 years, including battery on a pregnant female, retaliation against a witness and grand theft, records show.
Following Watkins' arrest, Sheriff David Gee said the shootings and carjacking appeared to be related and that Jackson and Watkins had a confrontation a couple of weeks ago. However, he said investigators were still piecing together tips and information.
"What led him here tonight, we have no idea," Gee said.
Sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said this afternoon that the agency would not be releasing additional details at this time.
No one answered the door today at the Wingate Drive home Watkins shares with his mother.
Neighbor Don Hughes said he has known Watkins and his mother for many years and has helped them with odd jobs around their house.
He said he once bailed Watkins out of jail when his mother was out of town.
"He's got a history of bizarre behavior," Hughes sai
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