Hank Earl Carr's rampage started with the killing of a child, then escalated

The worst day for police in Tampa Bay history happened 10 years ago. It began in an old apartment with no telephone, as the rising sun warmed Sulphur Springs, when a fugitive with a fake name shot his girlfriend's son in the face.

The boy was Joey Bennett, 4 years old. The fugitive said his death was an accident.

"I swear I'll never touch another gun again," he told the detectives.

They didn't know he was lying, or that his real name was Hank Earl Carr, or that he was wanted in four states, or that he had once bitten off half a man's ear, or that he had been accused of stomping a puppy to death.

Nor did they know of his 133 IQ, his expertise in martial arts, his vow never to return to prison, his handcuff key on a hidden gold chain.

Tricked by false information that was corroborated by his girlfriend, the detectives mistook him for a man with no criminal record. And so they put him in the back seat of an unmarked Ford Taurus with no protective screen.

Tampa police Detectives Rick Childers, 46, and Randy Bell, 44, were driving Carr from the apartment to police headquarters just before 2 p.m. when Carr used the key to free his hands. Then he grabbed the gun from Childers' shoulder holster.

Childers was a formidable homicide detective and one of the agency's most beloved officers. Bell had received an award of valor for leading a woman from a burning house. Carr shot them both to death.

A man in a delivery truck saw the struggle and pulled over. Carr ran to him and ordered him out. Armed with a rifle from the trunk of the Taurus, he sped away in the truck to his mother's house in Seminole Heights, where he changed his shirt and washed the blood from his hands.

"Kiss me," he told her. "You'll never see my face alive again."

He got back in the truck and drove north on Interstate 75, hoping to see his daughter in Ohio one last time. By then a description of the truck had gone out on the radio.

One man who heard it was Florida Highway Patrol Trooper James "Brad" Crooks, 23, son of a cattle farmer, engaged to be married later that year. When he saw Carr, there were 27 minutes left in his shift.

Crooks chased Carr into a thicket of traffic at the State Road 54 exit in central Pasco County. When both vehicles stopped, Carr got out of the truck, ran to the cruiser and killed Crooks with a rifle shot to the head. Then he got back on the interstate.

Next came a 22-mile car chase of exceptional speed and danger: Carr sprayed gunfire in all directions as he rocketed north at nearly 100 mph. Shards of glass hit a deputy in the chest and face. One round pierced the hull of a helicopter above. Another broke the arm of a truck driver. An officer's .40-caliber bullet lodged near Carr's spine. He drove on.

Finally, at State Road 50 in Hernando County, deputies forced Carr off the interstate by laying spikes in his path. When they shot out one of the tires, the truck rolled into the parking lot of a Shell station. Carr tore inside and made a hostage of the clerk, 27-year-old Stephanie Kramer. The standoff lasted almost five hours.

Nearly 170 police officers surrounded the gas station. Snipers tried in vain to line up a clean shot. Carr spoke by phone to two reporters, a hostage negotiator and his girlfriend, Bernice Bowen, who would later go to prison for being an accessory to his crimes.

"When you close your eyes at night," Carr told her, "think of all the good things about me. Don't think of the bad stuff and the fights. Please, think of how happy we were today, think of how we were going to go swimming."

He set the hostage free just after 7:30 p.m. Then police fired tear gas and used explosive charges to blow holes in the building. Carr shot himself in the head. Officers stormed through the wreckage and found him near the cash register, behind a wall of bulletproof plastic, his body covered in dust.

Thomas Lake can be reached at tlake@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3416.

Those killed by Hank Earl Carr on May 19, 1998

Joey Bennett, 4, the boy Hank Earl Carr called his son, shot in the face and killed with an SKS semi­automatic rifle. Carr said he did it by accident; Joey's 5-year-old sister, Kayla, said at the time that it looked intentional.
Tampa police Detective Rick Childers, 46, also known as "Chilly." Had a wife and two sons. Officer of the Year in 1990 for diving into a creek, breaking a window with his flashlight and rescuing a 17-year-old girl from a submerged car. Shot to death with his own gun as he drove Carr from the apartment to police headquarters.
Tampa police Detective Randy Bell, 44, received more than 30 letters of commendation in a 20-year career with the department. Had a wife, three daughters, a stepson, a stepdaughter and a grandson. Riding in the front seat with Childers when Carr took Childers' gun. Tried to intervene but couldn't. Shot to death.
Florida Highway Patrol Trooper James Crooks, 23, native of Clewiston, lost 75 pounds to meet the agency's fitness standards. Planned to marry his sweetheart, a schoolteacher, the following November. Ambushed by Carr on an exit ramp in Pasco County; killed before he could draw his gun.

Hank Earl Carr's rampage started with the killing of a child, then escalated 05/16/08 [Last modified: Thursday, May 22, 2008 1:32pm]

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