By BILL DiPAOLO
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 02, 2008
ROYAL PALM BEACH — A 16-year-old boy who once earned top honors for his work at a sheriff's office youth academy was shot dead by a deputy after he crashed his stolen car into a patrol vehicle twice Saturday morning, authorities said.
Ruben Charles DeBrosse, a sophomore at Royal Palm Beach High School, was airlifted to St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach, where he died 10 days shy of his 17th birthday. DeBrosse lived in Madison Chase Apartments, north of Belvedere Road and west of Benoist Farms Road.
At least one bullet the deputy fired struck him, sheriff's office spokeswoman Teri Barbera said.
"The deputy was justifiably in fear of his life," Barbera said.
A passenger in the vehicle, Gabriel Butler, 16, was uninjured.
Butler's mother, Tasha, said her son and DeBrosse knew the vehicle was stolen. Butler is an 11th-grader at Palm Beach Lakes High School.
"They were joy riding. My son told me when the police pulled them over, (DeBrosse) panicked. He hit the gas, and accidentally backed into the police car," she said.
DeBrosse was issued an identification card less than a month ago, but there is no indication he had obtained a driver license, records show.
DeBrosse had just made the varsity football team at Royal Palm Beach High and recently took a job at McDonald's to help his single mom pay the bills, said family friend Lisa Weidner, 38.
Last year, DeBrosse's mom sent him to the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office Eagle Academy, which is designed for at-risk boys.
"He was an excellent boy, the son of a single mom and youngest of four children, and his mom was diligent in keeping him off the streets," said Weidner, of Lake Worth, whose son attended the academy with DeBrosse. "She didn't want him getting caught up in any nonsense."
After earning a "most outstanding cadet" award and $1,000 scholarship at the academy, DeBrosse returned to Royal Palm Beach High this year, Weidner said. He had plans to join the Army after graduation.
"He overcame a lot of adversity and he certainly was no thug," Weidner said. "We're not saying he didn't do anything wrong, but we want to know what happened.
"Why is a 16-year-old boy dead?"
Tasha Butler, whose son was in the car with DeBrosse, said her son's account of events differs from that of the sheriff's office. Her son told her two deputies opened fire and that DeBrosse backed into the police car one time.
"The first shot hit Ruben in the head. He slumped over the steering wheel. They were still firing while Ruben was slumped over," Butler said.
Barbera discounted Butler's interpretation, saying, "Only one deputy opened fire. The PBSO vehicle was hit twice. He's got his facts all mixed up."
DeBrosse's mother, Marie, is a former member of the Riviera Beach Housing Authority, which runs that city's public-housing agency. She resigned from that post in 2003.
Several people were visiting DeBrosse at her apartment Saturday, trying to make sense of what happened. One woman, who declined to identify herself, said she had known Ruben DeBrosse since he was 2. Their mothers are best friends, she said.
"He would not intentionally run over an officer," the woman said. "That's just not Ruben. He was very respectful. I know he's a kid, and he probably panicked. He was a good kid."
The incident started about 2:20 a.m. when the deputy spotted the Kia at State Road 7 and Okeechobee Boulevard.
After determining that the Kia was stolen in July, the deputy followed it into the parking lot of Regal Cinemas 18, north of Belvedere Road on the west side of SR 7.
When the deputy tried to pull the car over, DeBrosse put it in reverse and crashed into the sheriff vehicle. DeBrosse, still in reverse, then tried to run over the deputy and again hit the patrol car, Barbera said.
The deputy has been placed on leave with pay, which is standard procedure. The deputy's name was not released.
The scenario that led to DeBrosse's death - a teenager allegedly driving a vehicle at a law enforcement officer who then opens fire - has played out several times in the county in recent years.
In February 2005, former Delray Beach police officer Darren Cogoni shot Jerrod Miller in the back of the head as the unlicensed teen drove a borrowed car down a breezeway at a high school dance.
In November 2005, school district police officer Hans Austin shot at Giovany Ramos three times, but missed, after the 15-year-old apparently knocked Austin off a moving golf cart with a pickup. The teenager was trying to tear out of the Lake Worth Middle School parking lot, where officials said he was loitering.
Ramos was sentenced to four years in prison in 2006 after pleading guilty to charges that included attempted murder.
In November 2006, a Lantana police officer fired at 14-year-old John Earl Clemons Jr., paralyzing him from the waist down. Clemons, a Congress Middle School football player at the time, drove at Joel Shackelford in a stolen Dodge Neon after attending a school dance in Lantana.
Shackelford was cleared of wrongdoing. Clemons got six years' probation last month for charges that included aggravated assault on a police officer.