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HomeCrimeSuspect killed in shootout with police after torching car and invading home

Suspect killed in shootout with police after torching car and invading home

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It all began with a home invasion and automobile theft in the early morning hours of Tuesday, May 31 and ended around 2 pm when a male suspect was shot and killed by sheriffs’ deputies.

Just a couple of hours after these incidents took place, Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis, Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco and Special Agent in Charge Mark Brutnell with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) held a news conference to inform the public of what transpired. Many of the facts were not known at the time of the 4:30 pm news conference but were revealed later.

The series of events started in Pasco County with a home invasion at 2:30 am at a home in Hudson near State Road 52 in the Moon Lake area. A man and a woman entered the house through an unlocked door, while another woman waited outside. The two tied up an 89-year-old man, stole some items from the home and his vehicle.

He wasn’t harmed and was able to free himself and call 911. About 6:45 am the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office was alerted about a burning vehicle at 223 Dandelion Court in Spring Hill. It was found to be arson and it turned out to be the car that had been reported stolen.

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Later in the morning or early afternoon, Pasco County deputies found two women at a gas station on County Line Road. They discovered items that had been stolen from the home and one of the women had some burn marks.

The women now have been identified as Bridgette Harvey, 42 and Jamie Kujawa, 38. Ironically, Ms. Kujawa was arrested in April on animal cruelty charges and was due to show up in court Tuesday morning.

She told the arresting officer that the man involved in the home invasion, who has since been identified as Victor Thomas Torres Jr. (DOB – 03/25/1980), was possibly at 472 Hollyhock Lane in Spring Hill where the animal cruelty incident had taken place in April.

Two Hernando County plainclothes detectives went to that location, saw the man and he recognized them. He fled and they began a search for him. Reports started coming in around 1:20 pm of a suspicious person jumping fences in the area.

Torres ended up in a house on Bancroft Street and entered the home that was occupied by two senior citizens and two children. He then went into the garage and started shooting at deputies who arrived on the scene. These included at least three Hernando deputies and one Pasco County K9 deputy.

As shown in the body cam video, it appears that the Pasco County K9 officer was leading the tactical squad.

During the course of at least the next fourteen minutes, Torres continued to fire at the deputies.

Eventually, he exited the garage and started to run while he continued firing. After repeated warnings from deputies to stop and drop his weapon, the officers fired several rounds and at least one hit Torres. This occurred at approximately 2:00 pm. After deputies found him lying on the ground they attempted to resuscitate him. He was taken to the hospital where he later died from his wounds.

At the press conference, Sheriff Nocco stated that Torres was a documented gang member and had an extensive criminal history going back at least sixteen years. He had been convicted of aggravated assault on a police officer, kidnapping, robbery and other crimes. Torres was released from jail in May of last year.

As in all police-involved shootings FDLE was called in to investigate and deputies were placed on administrative leave pending the outcome.

Mark Brutnell of the FDLE stated, “This [situation] had the potential to be very bad. The deputies showed great restraint.”

After the investigation is complete, the findings will be turned over to the State Attorney’s office.

Sheriff Nocco commented, “The heroism of the law enforcement officers is second to none. It’s sad that there is any loss of life, but at the same time, the suspect dictated our actions. Had he given himself up, it would have all been fine, but he started shooting at us and they had to defend themselves.”

Deputies did not want to return fire while the suspect was in the house for fear of hitting an innocent person. Had they heard shots being fired inside the house they would have charged into the house, “neutralized” the suspect, and rendered aid.

“We don’t wait and sit outside, we go right into those situations,” Nocco concluded.

The chaplain corps and victim advocates are counseling the innocent victims to help them deal with this trauma. At the same time, it’s traumatic for the officers and their families, so they will also receive mental health counseling.

Most law enforcement officers never have to fire a gun at a suspect. However, as shown in Tuesday’s events, when the situation does arise their training, discipline, and quick thinking−literally “under fire”−kick in. In addition, the cooperation and communication between Pasco and Hernando Sheriffs’ departments helped to resolve a dangerous situation quickly and without loss of innocent lives.

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