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Decatur native killed in shooting in Florida
Person of interest dead of apparent overdose in Fla.

By Seth Burkett · 340-2355

TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. — The “person of interest” in the shooting death of a Decatur native outside an apartment complex in Tarpon Springs, Fla., was found dead in a hotel in a neighboring county Wednesday, police said.

Sgt. Barb Templeton, a Tarpon Springs police spokeswoman, said a resident of Riverside Apartments discovered Michael Scott Steele, 25, lying on the sidewalk outside an apartment shortly before midnight Monday.

Tarpon Springs is just northwest of Tampa.

Family members said Steele moved to New Port Richey, Fla., a couple of years ago and worked as a pool cleaner.

His father, Troy Steele of Decatur, said Steele last visited Decatur in May to celebrate his son’s second birthday and see him start day care.

“He loved his son,” Steele said. “... He was a kind-hearted fellow. He’d give you his last dime if he had it and he knew you.”

Michael Steele loved basketball and played in high school at Holly Pond and East Lawrence, his father said.

A Crimson Tide fan, he frequently called his father to talk while watching Alabama games.

The news of his death came as a shock to his family, which includes his mother, Judy Steele of Decatur, his stepmother, Renay Steele, three brothers, two stepbrothers and a stepsister.

“I’m empty,” Troy Steele said. “I don’t know how to describe it to you. A part of your heart’s gone, a part of your life.”

Templeton said Steele’s death is being investigated as a murder.

Detectives interviewed associates of Steele and developed Robert Elias Maniatis, 20, of Holiday, Fla., in Pasco County, as a person of interest.

“Detectives were actively searching for him,” Templeton said. “They knew that he had associated with the victim in the same time frame as the murder happened, so they wanted to talk to him.”

The search for Maniatis ended Wednesday when Pasco County sheriff’s deputies discovered Maniatis dead in a room at the Tahitian Resort in Holiday.

“The exact cause of death has not been determined, but it appears to be an overdose,” said Kevin Doll, a Pasco sheriff’s spokesman. “He was found by friends who called 911.”

Doll said an autopsy would reveal more.

Templeton said the probe into Steele’s death will continue.

Investigators had planned to pick Maniatis up on an unrelated aggravated assault warrant from Pinellas County and question him about Steele’s death, Templeton said.

“His name came up in several of our other investigations — not always as a suspect, but in connection with violent crimes involving drugs, home invasions and that sort of thing,” she said.

Doll said sheriff’s investigators also had an interest in speaking to Maniatis.

Doll said deputies arrested Maniatis on Aug. 5 on a charge of aggravated assault in connection with threats Maniatis allegedly made to people in his neighborhood.

“According to our arrest report, Maniatis pointed an MAC11 semi-automatic at a number of victims and threatened to shoot up their residences,” Doll said.

“We’re also looking at him
as a person of interest in
other shootings around his home on Merita Drive,” Doll said.

“How many we can attribute to him, I can’t answer at this point, but he was a suspect in a number of violent incidents and crimes. It’s possible he was involved in a gang, but that’s something we’re still looking into.”

The St. Petersburg Times reported Wednesday that some residents of that neighborhood were moving after at least five shootings took place in the past five weeks.

Templeton said the apartment complex where Steele’s body was found is also the source of a large number of calls to police.

However, the call about Steele’s body may not have come until a few hours after the shooting.

“Someone heard what they thought was a firecracker around 9:30 that night, but no one called police,” Templeton said.

“Where he was lying wasn’t easily viewed. The sidewalk curves around to the back where there are other apartments, and he was in the back. If you were just driving through, you wouldn’t be able to see him,” she said.

The apartment Steele was found in front of was apparently uninvolved, she said.

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