PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The man who St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office said was shot after opening fire on a deputy who approached a stolen pickup truck Wednesday in Ponte Vedra Beach was last seen three days ago when authorities were told he left to go fishing.
Richard Bonsell, 28, of Lewistown, Pennsylvania, was airlifted to UF Health Jacksonville after he was shot. The sheriff’s office said he is in critical condition.
No deputies or bystanders were hit in the incident in the parking lot of the Publix-anchored strip mall.
Investigators said deputies saw the reportedly stolen Toyota Tundra stolen out of Lewiston when they approached Bonsell in the parking lot of the Sawgrass Village Shopping Center in Ponte Vedra Beach about 12:45 p.m. Moments after the deputy, later identified as Cameron Coward, got out of his cruiser, the man inside fired several shots, and the deputy returned fire. People in the parking lot and nearby stores were told to shelter in place.
The man locked himself inside the truck, while authorities secured the area and posted warnings on social media for everyone in the area to shelter in place, officials said. A SWAT team responded and took the man into custody after a brief standoff, Sheriff David Shoar said.
Shoar said it was not yet known if Bonsel was shot by deputies or if he shot himself.
“Nothing really surprises me after 40 years but I will tell you, whenever we have a situation like this, if we could bring it to an end where innocent people are not injured and law enforcement officers are not injured and fire rescue is not injured, it’s a good thing,” Shoar said. “And we hate to see anybody get injured, but we didn’t start this, the suspect did."
Zach Goodall said he had just pulled into the parking lot headed to Publix when two deputies came up to his car and urged him to leave the area.
“They had their rifles at the ready. They mounted the car in front of me and they told me I had to go and run," Goodall said. “It was pretty surreal. I still had no idea what was going on, but suddenly a bunch of police cars showed up.”
Shoar said time was of the essence during the standoff.
“We had people in a motor home like 10 feet from this incident. So the first thing we gotta do is get everybody safe,” he said. “These are the things you got to keep from getting worse. And it could’ve gotten worse real quick. So it was the best outcome we could have hoped. Obviously, if this gentleman makes it, that would be great, but we don’t know that yet.”
As the investigation continues, the sheriff said deputies will be working to learn why the suspect was in St. Johns County.