09/29/2006

Suspect in Florida deputy shootings killed

The Associated Press

LAKELAND, Fla.- A man suspected of shooting a Polk County sheriff's deputy to death was killed Friday, officials said.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said officials shot the man numerous times in thick brush, a day after Deputy Vernon Matthew Williams was shot in a burst of gunfire. The suspect refused to show his hands, Judd said.

The suspect appeared to have the .45-caliber weapon that belonged to Williams, Judd said. He still did not know the man's name.

SWAT teams from across Florida combed through heavy brush Friday, looking for the "scared" and "dangerous" man who shot two sheriff's deputies, killing one of them.

Before the man was killed, Judd said authorities had no indication whether he was still in the search area — 100 to 150 acres of woods and rural neighborhoods.

"We can literally walk by him, close enough to touch him and not see him" because the woods are so dense, Judd said. "The reality is, he's scared, he's dangerous, he's armed and he's experienced."

The man is accused of gunning down Williams after fleeing a traffic stop Thursday.

Judd showed a photo of the suspect, whom he said was from Miami and was involved in drug dealing. His real name hasn't been determined because he used aliases, Judd said.

The suspected gunman's face was identified by Deputy Douglas Speirs, who made the traffic stop and was shot in the leg moments after Williams was killed. Williams, 39, probably died instantly, Judd said.

"He was shot multiple times. I don't believe he felt a thing," he said.

Speirs, 39, was treated for a gunshot wound to the leg and released Thursday evening, Judd said.

Speirs had stopped the gunman for speeding in north Lakeland near Interstate 4 and became suspicious of the man's identification. The gunman got nervous and bolted into the woods, Judd said.

Speirs pursued him and called for backup. Williams arrived and they began working their way into the woods, Judd said.

As the officers tracked him, there was a "burst of gunfire" that is believed to have killed Williams and his police dog, Judd said. Speirs returned fire and was shot.

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

"We won't rest," Judd said of the manhunt. "We are prepared for a gunfight if he wants a gunfight. Or we're prepared to take him in peaceably if he has any sense at all."

A $40,000 reward was being offered for information leading to the gunman's arrest.

By early Friday, more than 500 police officers had used night-vision scopes and tracking dogs to search for the man, and that number was expected to double by noon, Judd said. Some officers drove for hours to get to the scene, about 35 miles east of Tampa.

Judd said 10,000 to 15,000 people live in the area. Officers were going house to house Thursday in some areas asking people to lock themselves inside. Three schools were locked down for hours, and two of them were closed Friday so officers could continue to search the area.

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

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