Death Trip

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

"That was a human being they shot, not some animal on the street," says Barry Laboube (pronounced "Laboo"). A construction worker for most of his 49 years, Barry looks far from delicate, yet he trembles as he talks about his only son. Barry keeps repeating, "He knew better. It was just a stupid thing that happened."

It is midafternoon, the Friday before Halloween, exactly a month since Jason was killed. Barry has just come from the foot of New Market Street, down near the river, where he works as a crane operator. At a table just inside the door of Parodi's, a bar and grill at Ninth and Tyler streets, Barry brings out a pack of pictures. There's a beaming, dark-haired boy of 9, hugging a dog. "He had chickenpox," says Barry, explaining the spots on Jason's face. "And that's Max. He loved that dog."

There's Jason as a Tiger Cub in Troop 585, Arnold. An older Jason in the beige uniform of the Boy Scouts. "He had 31 merit badges," says Barry, who was an assistant scoutmaster in his son's troop. "Jason was a Life Scout and only had to do his project to make Eagle, but he lost interest. The cars and the girls took over." Jason was buried with those merit badges, says Barry, along with a Moon Pie; Moonpie was a nickname, somehow connected to a bawdy scene in a movie. And there's Jason in another uniform, that of a drum-and-bugle corps, in which he played snare drum.

Finally there's Jason standing in the driveway with his first car, a 1990 Chevy Cavalier, a 16th-birthday present from his folks, Barry and Barbara. After Jason totaled the Cavalier, he got an '85 Ford Mustang. "We ended up having to garage that car," says Barry. "Jason lost his license for a year -- too many tickets. But he still got around. He had a bunch of friends -- I mean a bunch. He never lacked for transportation -- the phone was always ringing."

When teenage boys change, as they sometimes will, from pliant and respectful to obstinate and surly, it is usually a gradual transition. It's rare that a parent can pinpoint a particular incident that signals the phase, but Barry believes he knows when Jason started down the path that dead-ended in Marine Villa. At 15, Jason had a skateboard accident, and Barry thinks the accident altered his son's state of mind: "He suffered a concussion and was in the hospital for three days. After that, he started having problems. He became depressed, and he was having problems at school. We took him to a counselor, and the counselor said he had attention-deficit disorder. We think it was around this time, his sophomore year, that he turned to drugs, mainly pot."

Jason was caught up in the whirlwind of high-school society, especially after he got his license and his car. There were parties on weekends and an ever-rotating roster of new friends. He loved the raves (all-night alcohol-free dance parties where ecstasy, Special K [ketamine, an anesthestic] and other choice drugs of the culture are freely available) in St. Louis' Loft District downtown and kept his feelers out for any news of one. Even after he lost his license, he found ways to get to the city and rave. "His friends were always coming by," says Barry. "We didn't know the good ones from the bad ones. You don't know. You've got to give them freedom, but how much? You can't constantly supervise."

Even without full-time surveillance, however, Jason's parents couldn't help but notice the smell of pot. And so it was that while Jason was still in high school, Barry and Barbara began looking into a rehab facility for their son, settling on the Highland Center. "He had a problem with pot," says Barry. "I know he wanted to stop, but peer pressure's a hard thing."

Jason straightened out enough to graduate with the class of '99 from Seckman Senior High School in Imperial. There is no record of his involvement in any extracurricular activities.

By the fall of 1999, many of Jason's friends had gone on to college or enlisted in the military. Jason tried to join the Army in December but was turned down because of his asthma. Eventually he enrolled in ITT Technical Institute in Arnold. "He loved music," says Barry. "He went to concerts, and he wanted to work the soundboard, the mixer, as a career. But he didn't apply himself at that school. He had dropped out, though at the time of his ... his death, he intended to go back."

Around this time, Barry and Barbara, alarmed by Jason's continued pot use, decided that he needed a shock to the system. It happened at home. "It comes to a point," says Barry, "you don't know what to do, and that's the point we were at. We called the police, and they came and took him in, and when they searched him, they found a small amount of marijuana.

"Oh, he was mad," says Barry, recalling Jason's reaction at being turned in, "but we were trying to get him to stop what was going on. He was a good kid, but he was taking the wrong road."

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