Death Trip

A joyride from Jefferson County to score some dope dead-ends with a murder on the city's streets

The phone at the Laboube household, located in a prim subdivision in Arnold, rang on a fall Saturday afternoon. Jason Laboube, 19, and three of his friends -- Matt Adams, Scotty Fried and Abby Strasser -- were making plans to do nothing in particular. Matt had the car, a black Chevy Beretta, and Jason had the dough -- as much as $140, the sum of his last paycheck, received that day, from his job as a telemarketer.

Abby, 18, met Jason in 1998, when they worked at a local Denny's restaurant. A short, slight girl, Abby was a hostess, and Jason, an angular 6-footer, was a dishwasher. Their paths continued to crisscross, with a taste for raves in and around St. Louis at the heart of their friendship. At the time of their last outing that September evening, Abby felt attached to the goateed, spike-haired Jason, although they didn't actually date: They were teens; they hung out.

At a Steak 'n Shake on West Florissant Avenue in North County, Abby plucks gooey clusters of cheese fries from her plate and pops them in her mouth. Though Scotty says little and Matt declines to talk at all, Abby has no qualms about providing details about the night Jason was killed. It is two months after Jason's murder, and she has moved from Arnold to Florissant, working at a Subway sandwich shop and living in a house with six other "ravers" like herself. She has brought her housemate and current boyfriend, Brad, for support as she talks about the events of Sept. 30: "We were just driving around that night, and we didn't have much to do, and we wanted some weed. And the thing was, we could've got it in so many other places, but Jason had been down there before and he usually got good deals, better stuff than he could get around here."

"Down there" is an area one block south of Antique Row on Cherokee Street and a few blocks east of Jefferson, the intersection of Illinois Avenue and Potomac Street, in a neighborhood city planners refer to as Marine Villa. It was there, around 10 p.m., that they made contact with a teenager on a bicycle, a drummer for the local dope dealers.

"We asked him if he could get us a dub [a fat joint, supposed to hold 4 grams of pot], and he's like, "Yeah. Park the car and wait. I'll be back,'" she recalls. "He left, and we waited. We listened to CDs and stuff as the time passed. We even talked about leaving -- Scotty and Matt, who were more Jason's friends than mine, they had bad feelings about it -- but we didn't leave. Finally, after about 15-20 minutes, four came back -- three guys walking and a kid on a bike, but it was a different kid on the same bike." The dealers were standing around the car, and the kid on the bike was circling the car. "That made us nervous," says Abby.

Jason and Abby were in the backseat, and Jason was doing the talking. As the transaction progressed, Jason tried angling for more than a dub. "We had 100 hits of LSD, and he wanted to trade that and $20 for 3 ounces of weed," says Abby. "Well, that got away from us. We had never seen any weed, and then for some reason the guy was holding the 20 and the acid. I'm like, "Get your $20 back, Jason.' And Jason went to grab for his money, and the dude pulled it away. Then he pulled up his shirt and showed us a gun, and they all took off running."

When the dealer showed the pistol as a warning to back off, Jason scoffed. "He said that it wasn't real," says Abby, "that it was just a BB gun. And so Jason and Matt jump out of the car and start to chase these guys, which was the stupidest thing in the world. But Jason was real prideful -- he was going to get that money -- and Matt looked up to Jason. So off they went, up the street. There were four of them, anyway. Even if it was a BB gun, Jason didn't have a chance.

"Meanwhile, Scotty gets into the driver's seat, and I get into the passenger seat. We drive up around the block, and we're coming back down the street and I hear gunshots. Supposedly they unloaded a whole round [clip]. I see Jason coming around the corner, and he's holding his side. He really couldn't walk well. Scotty drove right past him -- I don't know that Jason even noticed us. And then Matt is running in the other direction, and he's yelling at me and Scotty to get the hell out of there. So Scotty takes off, and I'm like, "Stop the fucking car!' and he wouldn't stop the car. Finally he stops at a stop sign, and I jump out the car window.

"The window was faster," she clarifies. "I wasn't going to waste time. Anyway, I run back -- three, four blocks; I just followed my senses -- and right as I turned the corner, I saw Jason collapse to the side of the street. There's two people standing over him and, like, 16 people near their doorsteps, just watching. I said, "Call an ambulance!' and someone said they already did. I went to him, and he was spitting up blood; he was freaking out. He's like, "I can't breathe -- help me.' He even tried to take his inhaler -- he had asthma. He'd been shot under his left arm. I took off my sweatshirt, put it on his wound and held it till the ambulance got there. It never even once crossed my mind that he would die."

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