"Chaos" is how witnesses described the scene of events involving an officer-involved shooting Tuesday night in Crystal River.
It all started shortly after 5 p.m., when deputies initiated a traffic stop along State Road 44 and North Crede Avenue, near the Sunoco Gas Station at 6971 W. Gulf to Lake Highway, just west of County Road 486. Deputies had pulled over a black vehicle, an eyewitness said, asking that their name not be used.
“I heard bang, bang,” the eyewitness said, noting they know the distinct sound of gunfire. “It was definitely gun shots.”
The suspect then sped off from the scene, hitting two Citrus County Sheriff’s Office deputies as he fled, but not before one law enforcement officer was able to fire off several rounds, according to Sheriff Mike Prendergast.
“What we know right now, we have an active, ongoing investigation involving one suspect, who attempted to run over at least two of our deputies, striking two of our deputies and causing some injuries that have not been evaluated yet by medical authorities,” the first-term sheriff said while checking the first of three crime scenes established after the situation unfolded.
One of those two deputies fired his weapon at the suspect who attempted to run him over, Prendergast said, noting the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) will investigate the officer-involved shooting, which is standard protocol.
“We believe the suspect was struck by the deputy who fired at him,” Prendergast explained.
That was because after fleeing the Sunoco, the suspect drove westbound on State Road 44, striking a Citrus County Sheriff’s Office patrol car. During the pursuit, the suspect hit a motorcyclist, causing serious injuries. His car, according to an eyewitness, jumped the curb at the intersection of S.R. 44 and Northeast 10th Avenue, where it struck a tree in the parking lot at Auto Zone Auto Parts at 990 N.E. 5th St.
The suspect then fled south on foot, according to Prendergast, taking refuge in a nearby home.
“Someone did come out of the home and identify the suspect was there and had injuries,” Prendergast said, noting the suspect had a head injury, the extent of which law enforcement officials did not know.
At that time, deputies were able to take the suspect into custody. Based on evidence collected at the scene, deputies have tentatively identified the suspect as 39-year-old John Travis Wilson of Crystal River.
According to the eyewitness who was near the AutoZone, they were inside Sporting Health Club when the suspect struck the motorcyclist. Though the eyewitness and others inside the gym did not see it, they could hear it. The motorcyclist was badly injured, the eyewitness said, noting his leg was severed during the crash.
After the car came to a stop, the eyewitness said the suspect must have been going on “adrenaline” because they hopped out of the car and sprinted away from the scene.
“Crazy,” the eyewitness said, describing the events as they unfolded, adding bystanders pursued the suspect in an attempt to apprehend him.
Don’t do that, Prendergast said.
“Observe, take a photograph, report to us and let law enforcement intervene,” Prendergast said. “We don’t know if the suspect was armed at the time, but he did use a deadly weapon (car) to attempt to kill two of my deputies. We don’t know if he had a weapon on him or not; all we know is he attempted to kill two of my deputies while they were in the performance of their lawful duties.”
Prendergast said none of the agency’s deputies appear to be seriously injured.
“Once we get some time to get everything and let FDLE to do what they do, we’ll have more information,” he said.
Prendergast encouraged anyone with information connected to the incident to call the agency’s non-emergency number at 352-726-1121 or, for those who wish to remain anonymous, call Crime Stoppers at 888-ANY-TIPS (888-269-8477) or visit crimestopperscitrus.com.
This story will be updated.