Man On The Run After Firing Several Shots At Trooper
SUMTER COUNTY, Fla. – The all-out search for a man who opened fire on troopers in Sumter County was continuing Friday. He’s been on the run since just before 10:00am Thursday.
Friday morning, crews were using a FLiR system as the search continued. Itâ€™s a basic infrared cam that can see a body in the woods. They use it from the helicopter, which was first able to fly Friday morning after weather kept them on the ground overnight.
Nearly 24 hours earlier, the man fired several shots at a Florida Highway Patrol trooper and then ran through the woods trying to escape, ducking under branches and leaping over fallen trees. Only Skywitness 9 was there to see him run from the law.
Troopers never got a good look at him during the incident, so WFTV sent them Skywitness 9 video to help find him (EXCLUSIVE: video | images).
The suspect was in the process of being pulled over by a trooper near I-75 and Hwy-44 around 9:40am when he suddenly took off and was pursued by the trooper for several miles. Officials said the trooper was stopping him for â€œtwo or more moving violations,â€ something that amounts to reckless driving.
During the pursuit, officers said the suspect fired at the trooper, who returned fire. The trooper was unhurt.
An eyewitness told WFTV the gunman sped past her at a high speed and then she saw him fire at least one shot at the trooper who was chasing him on Highway 44. She pulled over, shaking, and saw the trooper slam on his brakes and fishtail.
While driving down Hwy-44, the driver turned onto a dirt road and headed down NW 33rd Drive (see map), before crashing his tan 1999 Chevy Suburban into a tree. The SUV has California plates and investigators said Thursday afternoon that the vehicle had not been stolen.
The suspect then fled on foot into dense woods and swamps that are part of the Lake Panasoffkee Wildlife Management Area. Skywitness 9 spotted the shirtless suspect running through the woods (EXCLUSIVE: video | images) with a small army of officers close behind him, but he was able to elude them in the thick brush.
â€œWe do not have any idea who he is or why he ran,â€ said Sgt. Larry Kraus, Florida Highway Patrol.
However, WFTV has been told investigators think they know who the suspect is; he does have a criminal record and it’s very possible he had some type of illegal drug in his vehicle, which was abandoned after crashing, but investigators will have to get a search warrant and really get in there and look before they can say for sure.
Investigators are trying not to get too close to the gunman’s vehicle. They said they found no gun in the vehicle, but are more vague publicly about whether they think there are drugs inside.
More than four hours after the search started, eyewitness Carol Hurley came back to the scene and told law enforcement officers and WFTV what she saw the gunman do after he sped past her.
â€œThe truck must have been going about a hundred miles an hour. I just saw an arm come out the window like this, bent around, and then I saw the arm pump up like this, like he had fired a shot. I saw a gun in his hand,â€ she said. “The state trooper slammed on his brakes and I thought he was hit.â€
There are about 150 law enforcement officers on the hunt for him, but they’re up against rough terrain. The Lake Panosofskee Wildlife Reserve covers more than 8,000 acres and it is riddled with downed trees and swampy areas. The officers are using tracking dogs, letting them get a whiff of the suspect’s SUV and hen taking them off to search.
â€œWe are gonna treat this suspect as armed and dangerous until we prove otherwise,â€ Kraus said.
About three hours into the search, at about 12:30pm, investigators said nine people heard a single gunshot coming from somewhere in the woods. At this point, no one knows what to make of it.
Investigators are looking for a white male, 40 to 50 years old, long hair, full beard, about 5-foot-8. They believe he is armed with a semiautomatic weapon and said he should be considered dangerous.