By Amaris Castillo
The Bradenton Herald
MANATEE, Fla. — A suspected bank robber died in a hail of bullets during a midday shootout Monday with Manatee County sheriff's deputies as lunchtime traffic rushed by a few blocks south on State Road 70 East.
A Manatee County Sheriff's Office lieutenant was also shot attempting to stop the suspect on 33rd Street East near a closed Sweetbay supermarket. Lt. Robert Mealy was wounded in the right arm but is expected to make a full recovery.
Witnesses said the suspect entered Florida Bank, 3704 84th Ave. Circle E., off University Parkway about 11:25 a.m. with a handgun and demanded money then escaped in a white pickup truck.
Deputies quickly responded to the robbery near the intersection of University Parkway and Tuttle Avenue. A few minutes later,
Mealy reportedly spotted the suspect's vehicle northbound on 15th Street East turn south on U.S. 301.
Stop sticks were used twice by deputies attempting to stop the vehicle by blowing out its tires.
The suspect's truck eventually stopped in the 5100 block of 33rd Street East in the middle of the street.
Sheriff's Office spokesman Dave Bristow said deputies tailing the suspect began getting out of their vehicles to conduct a felony takedown.
"All of a sudden, shots are fired from the suspect," Bristow said later during a news conference in the parking lot of a nearby Walmart Supercenter, 2911 53rd Ave. E. "We returned fire at the suspect."
The name of the suspect was not released in order to notify his family. An unspecified amount of money was recovered from the truck by law officers after the shootout.
Bristow said he did not know whether the suspect died as a result of the shootout or if he shot himself.
"As a result of that one round that was fired (by the suspect), and obviously after the return fire from our deputies was done, eventually we had a few members of our SWAT team arrive with a ballistic shield," Sheriff Brad Steube said later from the crime scene. "They approached the vehicle ... it was obvious the suspect was deceased. My guess would be a gunshot wound.
"There was a number of rounds being shot by the suspect and obviously a number of rounds that were being shot by law enforcement," he said. "We're very fortunate that there was only one person that was injured."
Steube said the deceased man could be linked other robberies.
"I would say that he's a suspect in several recent robberies," Steube said.
Steube also said deputies didn't have time to evacuate homes near the shooting.
No one was injured in the crossfire, said Bristow, who said the incident lasted about a half-hour.
"But there were some people that were living across from the shopping plaza who exited to see what was going on," he said. "We got on the blowhorn and told them that they needed to get back into their homes."
A witness told the Bradenton Herald he heard gunshots as he sat in his car outside a nearby McDonald's. Brian Gayheart said at least one tire on the suspect's truck was flattened after deputies ordered the person inside the vehicle to show his hands.
Employees at the McDonald's and nearby Dollar General said they couldn't comment on the incident Monday afternoon.
The Recipe Box Eatery in the plaza at 5207 33rd St. E. closed after the shooting. A handwritten note taped to the business door read: "CLOSED due to police activity. Sorry for inconvenience. Matt, Rich."
The shootout disrupted traffic on the busy State Road 70/U.S. 301 intersection. The Florida Highway Patrol reported 33rd Street East north of State Road 70 was closed although it later reopened after the scene was partially cleared about 3:30 p.m.
The Florida Bank branch closed after the robbery because it was a crime scene, but its drive-thru remained open, according to a Manatee County Sheriff's Office deputy stationed there. The bank entrance and much of its parking lot was blocked off with yellow crime scene tape.
A bank employee said she and other workers were not allowed to comment.
Mealy, who has worked with the sheriff's office since 1996, was treated and released at a local hospital. He is expected to make a full recovery.
A few minutes before 4:20 p.m., Nancy Kramlick waited inside her car at the plaza parking lot, which was still blocked off with yellow tape. She was waiting for her two grandchildren to be dropped off by the school bus, but the area where the bus usually parks was blocked off.
Kramlick said she heard about the shooting in the news.
"I noticed no cars were able to go through that road," she said. "So I guess the bus will have to find another way."
A tow truck arrived shortly before 4:30 p.m. for the suspect's truck. As the tow truck drove slowly toward State Road 70, numerous bullet holes in the Chevy truck were in clear view, including at least 14 on the left side.
Both left windows and the back window were shattered. A bottle of hand sanitizer hung from the rear-view mirror inside the worn truck.
Onlookers took photos of the truck as it passed -- including Norman Kinley. The 62-year-old had stopped by McDonald's for tea and learned about the shootout.
"Unfortunately the way the economy is right now and money is so tight and people are losing their homes... it has a tendency to bring out the worst elements in people," he said. "When you get to the point where you're going to lose your home, how are you going to feed your family and such?... This shouldn't really surprise anyone.
"It's a shame that it has to result in a shooting and a death."
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Copyright 2014 The Bradenton Herald