09/28/2006

Fla. seeks man who shot, killed deputy

By PHIL DAVIS
The Associated Press   

LAKELAND, Fla.- A man who had been pulled over for a traffic violation shot two sheriff's deputies Thursday, killing one of them and prompting an intensive manhunt that forced a lockdown at three schools, officials said.

Authorities told residents to lock themselves in their homes as officers swarmed the rural area. The gunman remained at large.

The shooter was first approached during a traffic stop for speeding, officials said. The deputy became suspicious of the man's ID, and the suspect bolted into thick brush.

That deputy and another who arrived seconds later with a police dog chased the suspect.

As the officers tracked him, there was a "burst of gunfire," said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. The first deputy returned fire, and both deputies and the dog were shot. Judd said the killed deputy was Vernon Matthew "Matt" Williams, 39.

"If he had been in the ER or the operating room, it wouldn't have made a difference," Judd said. "He was shot multiple times. I don't believe he felt a thing."

The deputy who made the traffic stop, Douglas Speirs, 39, was treated for a gunshot wound to the leg and released Thursday evening, a sheriff's spokeswoman said.

The suspect later exchanged gunfire with a Lakeland police detective who was at a home warning residents to stay inside. No one was hit.

"This is the face of the man who shot and killed my deputy today," Judd said at a news conference, holding the photo from the identification card the suspect showed Speirs.

The card carried the name of a 32-year-old Miami man, but Judd cautioned that the information could be bogus.

The shooting occurred near Kathleen High School, which was locked down, Wood said. A woman at the school who would identify herself only as Mrs. Platt said students were locked in their classrooms and were safe.

Two other schools farther away also were locked down.

About 6 p.m., authorities began evacuating the 1,600 students at Kathleen High, a sheriff's spokeswoman said. A bus took students to a secure area where they could meet their parents.

Authorities cordoned off a large area around the suspect's car. Helicopters circled in wide arcs as emergency vehicles raced up and down roads.

Television video footage showed officers with shields searching a wooded area with traffic backed up on nearby Interstate 4, which runs through the city about 35 miles east of Tampa.

Officers from neighboring counties assisted in the search.

Judd said 10,000 to 15,000 people live in the area. Officers were going house to house in some areas asking people to lock themselves inside.

Williams' police dog, a German shepherd named Diogi, was killed.

Williams had been with the sheriff's office since April 1994 and leaves a wife and three children.

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