Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Public safety

Ranch shootout leaves cowboy and his brother dead, one person injured

PLANT CITY — In a quiet pasture on peaceful Saturday afternoon, a simmering family dispute erupted in gunfire.

When the shooting was over, two brothers lay dead and a third person was wounded.

Hillsborough County deputies, who were called to the scene about 2 p.m., said the two brothers were Milton Varn, 62, and Perry Varn, 66. George Terrell Long, 71, took a shot to the shoulder, and 61-year-old Joanne Varn witnessed the shooting. She was not hurt.

A Sheriff's Office spokeswoman, Col. Donna Lusczynski, said all four "are related or have been related at one time or another." Their argument involved "a dispute over some property."

The shooting occurred in a thousand-acre pasture at the Rocking V Ranch at 5501 Varn Road, an address that deputies know well. They have been called to various residences scattered around the ranch several times in the past over similar disputes, Lusczynski said.

The brothers, Milton and Perry, were the sons of Plant City rancher Lamar "Ed" Varn, who died in 2012 at age 90. His obituary noted that he "loved his ranch . . . and worked very hard to maintain the cattle operation he inherited from his father."

A year later, the Varn family ran afoul of Hillsborough's Environmental Protection Commission for wanting to cut down and sell more than half of the ranch's cypress trees. They said they needed to sell the cypress trees to pay the taxes on the estate. But Hillsborough's rules say no more than half of a wetlands' cypress trees can be cut.

The father's estate remains listed in county property records as the owner of the ranch. Only two people are listed in corporate records as managers of the limited liability company that runs the ranch: Perry Varn and his mother, Martha.

Prior to Saturday's shootout, Milton Varn had been arrested once in Hillsborough, a 2009 domestic violence charge that was later dropped. On the arrest report, he listed "Self-employed cowboy" under employment. Perry had never been arrested.

The ranch's Facebook page says it now offers "outdoor weddings, company picnics, horse boarding, trail riding and much more." A man who answered the phone there late Saturday said no one wanted to talk about what sparked the shooting.

Detectives were still piecing the story together, but Lusczynski said the confrontation took place during "a meeting among some of the families" who live on the ranch.

"They were out in the pasture and their vehicles were out there," Lusczynski told reporters in a news conference Saturday.

Then one of the brothers showed up and "the dispute occurred," she said. Then the shooting started, she said.

"We do know there were numerous firearms involved," she said.

The wounded person was taken to Tampa General Hospital and is now in stable condition, Lusczynski said. She said the investigation is continuing as detectives seek to determine who shot whom and why.

Senior news researcher John Martin and photographer Luis Santana contributed to this report. Contact Craig Pittman at [email protected] Follow @craigtimes.

Comments
New Port Richey man faces sexual battery charge

New Port Richey man faces sexual battery charge

NEW PORT RICHEY — A 33-year-old man was arrested Monday on a charge of sexual battery, accused of assaulting a 10-year-old girl.Jonathan Wells was booked into the Pasco County jail, where he was being held Tuesday without bail.The assault took place ...
Updated: 10 hours ago
St. Petersburg power outage affects thousands

St. Petersburg power outage affects thousands

More than 2,000 Duke Energy customers are without power after a cluster of storms rolled through earlier this afternoon, according to Duke Energy.The area without power stretches along 62nd Avenue N from 12th Street N to 30th Way N, according to the ...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Safety Harbor fire chief departs: ‘Take pride in the job’

Safety Harbor fire chief departs: ‘Take pride in the job’

SAFETY HARBOR — When Fire Chief Joe Accetta started working at the Safety Harbor Fire Department, Fire Station 53 was a double wide in the middle of a field now home to Mease Countryside Hospital.Now almost four decades of challenges and promotions l...
Published: 06/19/18
Deputies search for suspects in rapper XXXTentacion slaying

Deputies search for suspects in rapper XXXTentacion slaying

DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — Deputies were searching for suspects Tuesday after troubled rapper-singer XXXTentacion was fatally shot in the driver’s seat of a luxury electric sports car. The 20-year-old rising star, who pronounced his stage name "Ex Ex Ex...
Published: 06/19/18
Lakeland father, girlfriend face charges in death of 6-year-old girl

Lakeland father, girlfriend face charges in death of 6-year-old girl

A Lakeland man and his girlfriend face charges of first-degree murder and aggravated manslaughter in the death of his 6-year-old daughter last week.Larry Lewis Golden Jr., 26, Breonna B. Wren, 21, were arrested Friday and are being held without bail ...
Published: 06/19/18
Argument over dog leads to fatal shooting in Polk County

Argument over dog leads to fatal shooting in Polk County

A Fort Meade man was killed Monday night and two others were wounded after Polk County deputies say they approached a man while searching for a lost dog.The shooting occurred around 6:45 p.m. at the home of suspected shooter Charles Peddycoart, at 41...
Published: 06/19/18
Deadly Sunday for swimmers in bay area waters

Deadly Sunday for swimmers in bay area waters

Two people drowned and another suffered life-threatening injuries in the waters of Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday.Investigators said all three cases appear to be accidents, but the incidents stand as a reminder that summer, with vacation ...
Published: 06/18/18
Pinellas deputies arrest Mississippi man 31 years after sexual battery

Pinellas deputies arrest Mississippi man 31 years after sexual battery

SEMINOLE — She was 22 when deputies said a man forced her at knifepoint into the woods off Seminole Boulevard and sexually battered her in February 1987.The case went cold, but now the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said it has arrested the man it ...
Published: 06/18/18
Tampa police seek driver who struck pedestrian and drove off

Tampa police seek driver who struck pedestrian and drove off

TAMPA — Police are seeking the public’s help in locating the driver who fatally struck a pedestrian on Sunday night and then drove off.The incident took place at 9:15 p.m. near the intersection of N Nebraska Avenue and E Linebaugh Avenue.No details a...
Published: 06/18/18
St. Petersburg teen, seven months pregnant, dies in Pasco crash

St. Petersburg teen, seven months pregnant, dies in Pasco crash

HUDSON — A 16-year-old St. Petersburg teen who was seven months pregnant was fatally injured in a crash Sunday night, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.The incident took place at 9:11 p.m. on Little Road south of Hudson Avenue. The teen, Emily ...
Published: 06/18/18