The owner of the AutoMax car dealership on Washington Boulevard said one of his salesmen felt something was wrong when Stephon Prather came there Wednesday and asked to test-drive a Cadillac.
"When you look at someone who has nothing to lose and is ready to do something, you can tell," said Phil Dias, owner of the North Laurel dealership.
A short time later, Prather opened fire on three Howard County police officers, striking 2-year veteran Steven Houk in the torso, according to charging documents in the case.
Prather, 29, was charged Friday with attempted murder after he was released from Maryland Shock Trauma Center on Thursday night for treatment to two gunshot wounds to his legs. Houk, who suffered serious injuries, remained at Shock Trauma.
The shootout began after an AutoMax salesman called police because, according to Dias, he felt uncomfortable with Prather's demeanor.
Dias said Prather initially asked to test-drive the car without asking about a price and "wouldn't respond to casual conversation. He would never take his hand out of his pocket. It set off alarms."
The salesman told Prather he had to wait for a transport tag to test-drive the Cadillac, at which point Prather left, according to charging documents. Minutes later, he came back and again asked to test-drive the Cadillac. According to charging documents, the salesman told Prather he was going to check on the transport tag but instead called police.
While the salesman was on the phone, Prather walked to the rear of the business and asked who he was calling, according to charging documents. At that point, the two walked to the front of the dealership, where police had arrived.
Charging documents say Prather pushed an officer when one asked him to take has hand from his pocket, then walked into the middle of Washington Boulevard. He then fired at the three officers, according to documents.
Houk was shot in the torso, and at least one other officer opened fire on Prather as he ran into nearby woods.
Police from several area agencies searched for Prather overnight until he was found walking along U.S. 1 on Thursday morning. Police said a handgun believed to have been used in the shooting was found a short time later inside a storm drain.
Prather has an earlier conviction that officials say prohibits him from possessing a handgun. Court records from 2006 indicate that he pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree assault and was sentenced to five years after police said he fired shots at a family after an argument. He was released in 2009 after the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said he was amenable to drug rehabilitation treatment, according to a spokesman for the Prince George's County state's attorney's office.
Prather is being held at the Howard County Detention Center without bond. He is also charged with attempted murder, assault, reckless endangerment and illegal possession of firearms.
Prather's public defender, Louis P. Willemin, did not respond to a request for comment Friday.