Man charged with murder in Lazy Gators shooting

Joyce L. Miller
Chad T. Brewer.

A 29-year-old Jefferson City man has been charged with first degree murder in the death of Vonza Watson, a rapper, who was shot over Memorial Day weekend at Lazy Gators.

Chad Tariq Brewer was arrested on May 29,  shortly after the shooting was reported. Brewer was taken into custody by deputies at the scene after they spotted a man near the venue who matched the description of a possible suspect. During the arrest, Brewer allegedly had approximately 5.5 grams of cocaine in his possession packaged for sale. Brewer was taken into custody at the scene on drug-related charges.

After his arrest, Brewer was transferred to the Missouri Department of Corrections. He has remained in custody since the shooting on a parole violation out of Cole County for first degree robbery. Several others who were taken in for questioning as persons of interest were released.  

Camden County Prosecuting Attorney Caleb Cunningham has requested a no bond warrant, citing a previous criminal history and flight risk.

First degree murder carries a minimum range of punishment of life without parole and authorizes the use of the death penalty. Cunningham said “we are exploring all of our options regarding the range of punishment.”

The shooting was reported around 10:45 p.m. on May 29, a Saturday night when the popular lakefront venue was packed. When deputies arrived, they found the victim with a gunshot wound to the abdomen. He was taken to Lake Regional Hospital where he died of his injuries.

According to court documents, there was an alleged altercation between Brewer, Watson and several other people. Video footage obtained from the bar and patrons shows a man identified as Brewer, raise his arm, fire a handgun and leave the bar. The court documents cite various videos provided to law enforcement.

Several witness alleged Brewer was the shooter. During questioning, Brewer admitted to an altercation with Watson but denied being involved in the shooting.

Brewer alleged there was a “beef” that started when he was in prison and used to be friends with Watson. When a detective stated he thought the shooting was accidental, Brewer allegedly responded saying he thought it was intentional.

Watson was an up-and-coming rapper who went by the state name VNZA. He grew up in Michigan and Jefferson City, and had most recently been living in the Kansas City area.

Cunningham said the public played a significant role in the investigation and the subsequent charges. It was a member of the public who provided the most influential pieces of evidence in the case.

“I have spoken to Mr. Watson’s family. While we cannot return what was stolen from them, it is my hope that we can help bring the family some peace knowing that Brewer is in custody and charged,” Cunningham said. “My office is continuing to work with the Camden County Sheriff’s office and other law enforcement agencies regarding additional charges against other defendents.”

Cunningham said the investigation has involved multiple agencies whose members have a determination to bring the case to this point.

“These men and women dug through 40 yards of trash, dove in Lake of the Ozark, executed multiple search warrants and crisscrossed the state interviewing witnesses. No effort was too great,” he said.

Over the course of the investigation, investigators were able to track down information on Brewer’s whereabouts immediately following the shooting. Brewer and his brother were allegedly seen on surveillance video leaving the bar after the shooting. Another video allegedly shows the fight in progress. Brewer can be seen being pushed away by people intervening in the fight. The muzzle flash of a gun can be seen and there is an audible pop sound. 

One fire 9mm casing and one fired bullet were on the ground near where the victim was found. 

Court documents also reference a phone call placed by Brewer from the jail several days after the shooting. He can allegedly be heard discussing the shooting and tells the other party to not post photos of him wearing a pink shirt that another witness had alleged he had on at the time of the shooting. A search warrant for the posts on Brewer’s Snapchat account showed two photos of him wearing the same clothes witnesses had identified. 

Camden County Sheriff Tony Helms said the crime scene was difficult to process. At the time of the shooting, as many as 2,000 people were in the immediate area. Finding witnesses and getting law enforcement on the scene to do interviews was challenging as patrons tried to leave. Helms described it as chaotic. 

Lazy Gators and Shady Gators are located next to each other at the 7-mile marker by water and off Sweet William Rd by land. 

Since the shooting, security at both venues has been increased. 

Working with the Camden County Sheriff’s Department has been the Missouri Highway Patrol, ATF, Jefferson City Police Department and several other agencies who contributed to the investigation.