Thursday, January 18, 2018
Public safety

Clearwater Beach parking tickets lead to cache of weapons

CLEARWATER — An irate ex-convict who attacked a parking enforcement officer near Clearwater Beach on Saturday was found in possession of an assault rifle and two semi-automatic handguns, as well as 348 rounds of ammunition, police said.

No shots were fired during the incident, which led to the arrest of Clearwater resident Son Uong, 37. But the unsettling display of firepower at one of Tampa Bay's most heavily visited beaches has authorities concerned about Uong's intentions. He was arrested the day after a gunman carrying similar weapons killed 20 children and six adults at a grade school in Newtown, Conn.

Upon seeing police arrive to arrest him, Uong said, "Someone is going to die today," according to witnesses.

Pinellas County sheriff's deputies, carrying out an unrelated eviction notice Monday morning at Uong's home at 1265 Lakeview Road, also found a semi-automatic handgun, sheriff's spokeswoman Cecilia Barreda said.

Uong is charged with being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition, carrying a concealed firearm, battery on a law enforcement officer, armed burglary (for allegedly trying to yank the parking officer out of a city truck), and resisting arrest. He was being held at the Pinellas County Jail on $80,150 bail.

As a felon — he pleaded guilty to burglary in 1994, according to state records — Uong was not permitted to buy or own guns and ammunition. Police are investigating how he obtained the weapons.

At the time of his arrest, Uong was carrying a fully loaded .40-caliber Glock pistol in his pants pocket, according to police. In his car, he had a loaded Sig Sauer .380 handgun in the glove compartment and a loaded Sig Sauer 556 assault rifle with a night-vision scope and high-capacity magazines "poised in the trunk for quick access," police said. He also had 188 rounds of rifle ammunition and 160 rounds of handgun ammunition.

Uong's array of weapons was similar to that found at Sandy Hook Elementary School a day earlier, when police say gunman Adam Lanza carried out one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history. Lanza also had two semi-automatic handguns made by Glock and Sig Sauer. The assault rifle Lanza carried was a Bushmaster carbine similar in style and capacity to the Sig Sauer 556.

Police spokeswoman Joelle Castelli said police have no indication that Uong was planning to use the guns in a "copycat" act of violence inspired by the Newtown shootings.

The episode began when Uong confronted Clearwater parking enforcement Officer Norton McGiffin IV on Saturday afternoon over two $20 tickets McGiffin had issued him that day.

In an interview Monday, McGiffin said he was driving through a parking lot at the south end of Clearwater Beach when a white Lexus with a cross dangling from the rearview mirror cut him off. Uong leapt out and yelled at McGiffin to get out of the city truck he was driving.

When McGiffin refused, Uong yanked open the door and grabbed his arm.

Bracing himself against the door frame, McGiffin radioed for help about 3:40 p.m. McGiffin said Uong told two officers who arrived on scene "not to advance" and to "stand down." One officer snuck behind Uong and pinned his arm behind his back, leading to his arrest, McGiffin said.

Arrest reports show that two witnesses heard Uong say, "Someone is going to die today," though McGiffin said he did not hear that statement.

"I'm glad that I didn't get out of the vehicle," McGiffin said Monday, "knowing after the fact that he had guns."

Uong told officers that he "went after" McGiffin "because he was being harassed," according to police reports.

The Clearwater home that Uong has owned for seven years was foreclosed on in August and resold in September, according to Pinellas County court records. Sheriff's deputies who went to the house Monday morning were planning to evict him.

Times staff writer Stephen Nohlgren and researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.

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