The death of Tre’ Stylez: Alcohol, a gun, a party at dawn and a giant question mark

by Jordan Green

Trey Michaud arrived at the party immaculately dressed and bearing a birthday gift for the guest of honor. He danced around the room to his own music, talked about plans for the next week and celebrated his youth.

‘“Everybody who saw him that night saw that he was in good spirits; he was partying like there was no tomorrow,’” said Mike Eastep, a resident at 2416 Springwood Drive, where Michaud spent the last eight hours of his life.

The 23-year-old rapper known as Tre’ Stylez, whose given name was Richard Normand Michaud III, had planned to spend time with a sweetheart and perform with his band at a Greensboro club the next day, his friends say. The following week, he was scheduled to sit for an interview with YES! Weekly and perform with his band at Ziggy’s, Winston-Salem’s premier live music club.

After midnight on Dec. 3, witnesses say, a swell of guests crowded into the house on Springwood Drive. Then around 3:30 a.m. two brothers showed up with a handgun and the mood shifted decisively. Most of the guests cleared out. A handful stayed on, continuing a marathon of alcohol consumption that ended sometime after 7 with a single shot that took Michaud’s life. In the haze of intoxication and exhaustion no one seems to know who fired the gun or why.

‘“He was already there when I got there,’” said Ross Bright, guitar player for the band Tre’ Stylez. ‘“It was one of the most relaxed, chilled parties. We were all jamming downstairs and Trey was bobbing around.’”

Two of the house’s residents, Alex Simmons and David Godwin play in a band called Nyos. They had set up musical equipment on the lower level of the house.

‘“My roommates’ band started playing on the equipment downstairs at midnight,’” Eastep said. ‘“It was in full swing. There were a lot of chill people, people that had heard of each other and wanted to meet each other’…. There were so many people in the house that they were spilling out in the backyard.’”

Bright said he left at about 2:30 or 3. He asked Michaud if he wanted a ride, but his friend responded: ‘“No, I’m still partying.’”

Sometime between 2:30 and 4, according to two partiers, two brothers from Oak Ridge, 22-year-old Jacob and 29-year-old Chris Culbreth showed up at the party with a gun. Simmons remembered it being passed around. He said a friend took the gun out of one of the brothers’ hand, removed the clip and set the bullets on the kitchen table. At some point, many of the guests believe, the bullets must have been put back in the gun.

At least one person, Godwin, knew one of the brothers.

‘“I’ve known Jake since high school,’” he said. ‘“He’s a good-old Southern boy. I think he might have graduated a year after me from Northwest High School. He was not an obnoxious kid. I think their attitude is just that they’re ready for anything.’”

Godwin said he didn’t know how the brothers found out about the party. They definitely made an impression.

‘“When people saw the gun there they were like, ‘Time to go,”” said Preston Bass, whose birthday was being celebrated that night. ‘“I remember looking around and a lot of people had gone. It had to be 4:30 when everybody left.’”

Asked why no one requested that the brothers put the gun in their vehicle or leave the party, he said he preferred to avoid conflict.

‘“It was my birthday party and I wanted to talk to everybody,’” he said. ‘“I didn’t want to talk to them. We were all concentrating on having a good time. Anybody who wasn’t, we were going to leave them alone.’”

Bass did not know Michaud well, but the only present he received that night came from the rapper ‘— a box with a silver money clip, a silver lobster, a silver swan and an American flag patch. Earlier in the evening the two had danced around the room to an Insane Clown Posse CD.

But now the partygoers were preoccupied with the two brothers’ fighting.

‘“We didn’t really try to kick them out,’” Simmons said. ‘“We said, ‘If you’re going to fight you can take it outside.’ As far as I know, that’s what they did.’” Simmons added that he and Michaud intervened between the brothers a couple times. No one interviewed for this story said they observed Michaud trying to break up a fight between the Culbreth’s at the time of the shooting.

Bright wonders whether his friend wanted to leave after the gun had been flashed.

The digital display on his cell phone read 4:44 when the call came. Michaud talked in a quiet, tentative voice, not the boisterous tone with loud voices in the background that Bright would expect when receiving a call from a party at that hour.

‘“You need a ride, don’t you?’” Bright asked. Michaud asked him if he had been asleep, and Bright acknowledged that he had been. The guitar player was almost out the door, when Michaud changed his mind.

‘“No, don’t worry about it,’” he said. ‘“I’ll get a ride from someone here.’”

‘“He was kind of serene,’” Bright said, ‘“He said, ‘Whatever happens in life, I love you.’ I told him I loved him too. He had a date with this girl, one of the only loves of his life. He talked about plans to rehearse the next day and then spend some time with this girl.’”

Bright said Michaud felt uncomfortable around guns.

‘“Trey hated guns,’” he said. ‘“He thought having a gun made you less of a man: If you’re gonna fight, do it with what you were given.’”

Michaud was also scheduled to work at the Record Exchange at noon that day.

‘“He never liked to drive,’” said Rhonda Moggio, Michaud’s aunt. ‘“He worked near the party. He was going to spend the night and walk to work the next day.’”

After the incident with the gun the party dwindled down to Simmons, Bass, Michaud and the Culbreths. Eastep and Godwin had gone to bed.

‘“He didn’t have anybody in his close circle with him,’” Moggio said of her nephew.

Just before the shooting, the five partiers occupied the kitchen and living room in shifting configurations, according to all accounts. Simmons said he had been in the kitchen minutes earlier and went into the living room to watch a DVD. Bass thinks he might have been watching the DVD as well.

Godwin got up at 7 to drive to a job in Kernersville. His account of the moments leading up to the shooting contains the clearest description.

‘“Alex and Chris were standing in the kitchen,’” he said. ‘“It was like they were just exhausted from being up so many hours. They were just talking loud. I needed to find Preston so he could move his car.’”

He found Bass in the living room with Michaud and Jacob Culbreth.

‘“They were all standing in front of the TV,’” he said. ‘“Trey’s standing there with no shirt. He’s got this tie-dye cloth around his neck. He gave me this stare. He couldn’t even say anything. He looked like he’d just run a marathon. I was like, ‘Dang, you guys are troopers.””

While he and Bass passed back through the kitchen on the way to the driveway, Godwin said he saw Chris Culbreth fall backwards into a trashcan. Left inside the house were Michaud, Simmons and the Culbreths.

Bass, by then outside, said he heard a pop and a thud. The clock in his car read 7:03 about that time Godwin said.

What happened when the shot was fired is a matter fraught with disputed claims, cloudy memory and traumatized reactions.

‘“Everybody was really drunk,’” Chris Culbreth said. ‘“Me and my younger brother had gotten in a fight right before it happened.’”

In a telephone interview on Dec. 14 he gave conflicting accounts, first saying he’d heard the shot, then saying he only saw the other people reacting in alarm.

‘“I don’t really know what happened,’” he said. ‘“I was so drunk I don’t remember anything. And I’d just gotten punched in the nose.’”

Simmons said he ran into the kitchen from the living room when he heard the shot.

‘“My brother tells me that the guy that lived there knocked me over running to Trey,’” Chris Culbreth said. ‘“[The police] tested all of our hands, so that should come back with no gun residue’…. The police didn’t arrest anybody that night. We’ve been back to talk to the detective. She said it would be a month before they know anything.’”

Chris Culbreth’s account is contradicted by Godwin, who said he heard differently from Jacob Culbreth at the police station. Everyone at the scene was taken in for questioning.

‘“Jake said he punched his brother and Alex jumped on him, and they heard the gun go off,’” Godwin said.

Simmons said he shook Michaud’s head and put his hand on the man’s chest. He had stopped breathing.

Godwin said he talked to the Culbreths at the police station. ‘“I’ll go down for anything, but I did not intentionally shoot,’” Godwin said Jacob Culbreth told him. ‘“I take responsibility because I brought the gun. I didn’t fire it.’”

Jacob Culbreth, who was reached by phone on Dec. 15, declined to comment on the conversation.

As of Dec. 15 police had announced no arrests. Det. Leslie LeJeune, who is handling the case for the Greensboro Police Department’s homicide squad, said she expects the results from ballistics tests and an autopsy to be available in about two months.

The Culbreths understand that Michaud’s friends have questions about their role in the shooting.

‘“We just feel terrible,’” Chris Culbreth said. ‘“We feel like we can’t go anywhere. I know Trey was well liked.’”

A number of Michaud’s friends have said they do not want to see individuals take revenge on the brothers, especially considering that the circumstances of the shooting are so murky. Several say they believe the shooting was accidental.

‘“As far as any feelings of anger as a result of Trey’s death I would believe that he would want nothing but good things to follow this,’” Godwin said. ‘“So far, the people of this town have come forward to do just that.’”

Many of Michaud’s friends say they are also disturbed by rumors that the rapper took his own life, rumors stoked by speculation about the intent behind Michaud’s lyrics in passages of the Tre’ Stylez CD Kill Me.

‘“Everybody knows it wasn’t a suicide,’” Simmons said. ‘“He was in a great mood that night. He had so much going for him.’”

At least two lessons have been learned from Michaud’s death.

‘“If you’re having a party, know who’s there,’” Bass said. ‘“If you have a gun, put it in the car.’”

Beyond that, friends say the more they learn the more questions they’re left with.

‘“There’s so many questions and you want to have the answers for Trey’s sake, for the sake of everyone who knew him,’” Eastep said. ‘“Right now, all you can do is run these scenarios through your head.’”

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