PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – A man discovered inside a stolen vehicle in Sawgrass was “gravely wounded” after firing shots at a deputy on Wednesday, according to the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff David Shoar said deputies were on the lookout for a pickup truck that was recently reported stolen out of Pennsylvania about 12:45 p.m. when they spotted the vehicle in the parking lot of the Sawgrass Village shopping center off A1A.
Shoar said one of the deputies performed a stop and a man in his 20s exited the vehicle with a shotgun and fired a couple of shots at the deputy. The sheriff said the deputy, who was not struck, returned fire.
The suspect then locked himself in the vehicle, Shoar said.
About 2:15 p.m., Shoar said, a SWAT team used tear gas to extricate the suspect out of the vehicle. He said the suspect suffered life-threatening injuries and was airlifted to a hospital.
“We’re not sure if it was from us or if it was a self-inflicted wound,” Shoar said during a media briefing. “He has been gravely wounded.”
The Sheriff’s Office did not immediately identify the man, but Shoar says there was surveillance video of him getting into the stolen pickup with a shotgun in his hand in Lewistown, a city in Pennsylvania between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
Aerial video from the Sky 4 helicopter showed a SWAT vehicle behind the pickup, which had at least nine bullet holes in the windshield, in the Sawgrass Village parking lot. A shotgun could also be seen on the ground next to the driver’s side door of the pickup.
One witness said he recorded cellphone video of the shootout, though he was not able to release it because the Sheriff’s Office will be using it as evidence.
“I thought the police are going to want this, so I just rolled down my window and started videoing it because the bullets were going parallel to me. I was maybe 25 feet from the police car and maybe 30 to 35 feet from the truck,” Darryl Godfrey said.
The Sheriff’s Office asked those in the area to shelter in place during the incident. No residents were injured.
“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."
Linda Suggs told News4Jax by phone that she was going to check out at the Publix in the shopping center when employees locked the doors of the store and moved customers back into the aisles.
“We were lucky, you know, that we weren’t in the parking lot when that was going on, basically, is what I was thinking," Suggs said.
Zach Goodall was in the parking lot at the time. He said he had just pulled up to go inside the grocery store 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.”
College student Connar Lufkin said he was also in the parking lot when shots were fired.
“I had a lot of adrenaline rushing. It was pretty intense. I was trying to get out of the situation," Lufkin said. "I was thankful I was alive. So, thank God I didn’t get hit by any bullets.”
The sheriff 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.