By Kevin P. Connolly
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Luke Castello launched his crime spree at a seedy Daytona Beach motel.
It cranked into overdrive in a Walmart parking lot. Then it ended — violently — with a crash on Interstate 95 and a barrage of police bullets.
Port Orange police officers — six in all — opened fire on 22-year-old Castello after he pulled a gun on them from the driver's seat of a stolen minivan wrecked on I-95 in Volusia County.
Now, months after an investigation cleared officers of any wrongdoing, new records have been released examining the September showdown.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement records include detailed crash photos, extensive officer interviews and graphic dash-cam video of a police pursuit.
Those records, along with previously released documents, shed light on how a robbery quickly spiraled into a rampage cutting through two cities, bringing terror to an otherwise routine Wednesday morning.
'Conduct The Stop'
Daytona Beach police were dispatched at 9:16 a.m. Sept. 25 to the Heritage Inn, a motel on Ridgewood Avenue known for crime and code violations.
Dennis Johnson and Brittany Brooks told police Castello robbed them, held them at gunpoint, ordered them to tie themselves up with plastic ties and forced them into her 13-year-old blue Dodge Caravan.
Johnson broke away. Then Brooks escaped.
"He's running around in the middle of the street, saying someone just robbed him," a passer-by said in a 911 call. "... He had his hands tied behind his back."
Castello drove off holding a gun. He had two other pistols in the van.
The call came in over the police radio: Be on the lookout for an armed man driving a stolen van.
Police in nearby Port Orange spotted it at 10:45 a.m. near Spruce Creek and Taylor Road.
Officers followed for a short time until the van pulled into a Walmart parking lot.
The call came in: "Conduct the stop."
Police lights flared. The van took off.
It swerved through traffic and ran lights before jumping on I-95. It was going roughly 80 mph on the highway.
Brian Gardner, a retired law-enforcement officer, just happened to be driving north on I-95 at the time.
His training kicked in. He realized the van was trying to get away from police.
When the van tried to pass his pickup on the right, Gardner maneuvered, preventing the van from passing and ultimately forcing it off the shoulder and onto the grass.
Castello turned, causing the van to flip.
Sgt. Jeremy Bird jumped out of his patrol car and took cover. His firearm was pointed at Castello.
Bird ordered him to show his hands. He never did.
Bird and another officer, Darren Starling, moved in. Bird continued to yell at Castello, ordering him to show his hands. He had his Glock pointed at Castello.
When they were 10 to 15 feet away, the van's engine revved.
Castello pulled out a revolver. Officer David Adams yelled, "Gun!"
It was pointing at Bird. He fired. Then a flurry of gunfire — all from Glocks — followed.
Castello slumped over. He was cuffed and checked for a pulse. None.
A Smith & Wesson Highway Patrolman .357-caliber revolver in the van had one live cartridge.
Two other pistols had a total of four live rounds.
Brass Knuckles And A Syringe
Castello and 59 others were killed by police in Florida last year in what FDLE and national standards call justifiable homicides: an officer killing a felon in the line of duty.
Sixty-nine were killed in 2012 and 70 in 2011. After 2006, when 21 justifiable homicides were recorded, the state has averaged roughly 61 annually.
State Attorney R.J. Larizza, in a Feb. 4 letter, backed up the FDLE investigation that cleared Bird, Adams, Starling, Bigelow and two other officers, John Nolan and Chris Scaccia, of any wrongdoing.
"Each officer was clearly in fear of his life and the lives of fellow officers and reacted appropriately under the circumstances,"
Port Orange police Chief Gerald M. Monahan Jr. said in a statement after his officers were exonerated.
Thirty-seven shell casings were found.
An autopsy pinpointed 15 entrance wounds, nine exit wounds and one graze wound. Seven projectiles were recovered from Castello.
In his pockets: brass knuckles, a syringe and baggie with an unknown white substance — reminders of his criminal past.
He had pleaded no contest to two misdemeanors, a gun charge and criminal mischief but faced two felony charges: burglary of an unoccupied structure and carrying a concealed firearm.
In his system: cocaine and marijuana. The autopsy noted other details, including his tattoos.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Gothic-style letters across his chest proclaimed: "No one can judge me until the end."
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