Homeless Man Rewarded For Hot Tip

Broward County Sheriff's Deputy Paul Rein, 76, a 20 year police veteran,died at North Broward Hospital from gun shot wounds Wednesday, Nov 7, 2007. Michael Mazza the suspect in the shooting.
AP Photo
A homeless man whose tip police say led to the capture of an escaped prisoner accused of fatally shooting a sheriff's deputy in Broward County, Florida, was called a hero on Sunday and given thousands of dollars in assistance.

Mark Spradley, who described himself as homeless but has a car, said a man flagged him down for a ride on Wednesday, telling him a story about trouble with a relationship. They drove around for two hours.

"Anywhere I wanted to go, he wanted to go," Spradley said.

Unknown to Spradley, the man - Michael Mazza - had been en route to court for a robbery trial earlier that day when he shot the driver, 76-year-old Deputy Paul Rein, authorities said. He had claimed to have a back problem, the reason he was being taken in a medical van. Investigators now think that may have been a ruse that was part of an escape plan.

Looking back at the encounter, Spradley said he thought a plastic bag Mazza was carrying held food, but it apparently contained the deputy's gun. The pair ate at a soup kitchen and then went to a pawn shop where Spradley wanted to buy some speakers. When Spradley went inside, he saw Mazza's picture on the television and alerted the store manager, who called 911.

"He's the hero in this story," Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti said of Spradley.

On Sunday, Spradley was presented with a total of $3,500 from two organizations at the Broward Sheriff's Office, and a spokesman for the National Police Defense Foundation said that organization would give him $2,500 on Monday. The money was not reward money but assistance to help him get on his feet, officials said.

Spradley said since the incident he has spoken with his mother, who lives in West Virginia.

She told Spradley "not to pick up anybody no more," he said.

Spradley soon may get additional money. He is eligible for $25,000 in reward money from Crime Stoppers and $7,500 from the National Police Defense Foundation.

Spradley said he hopes to start work soon at a shop that restores and rebuilds cars.