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Hernando deputies wound man they say threw firebomb at them

BROOKSVILLE — Just 100 yards from the spot where a woman was bludgeoned to death two weeks ago, investigators approached a home Tuesday morning at the end a long, dirt driveway and prepared to serve a search warrant.

When Brett Hattenbrun came to the door, authorities say, he tossed a flaming Molotov cocktail at the deputies and began firing a nail gun at them. Neighbors heard five shots, a pause, and then five more.

Hattenbrun was shot in the abdomen and taken to a hospital. Authorities say they expect him to survive. No deputies were injured by the flames or nails.

Hattenbrun is the father-in-law of Joey Hattenbrun, who was killed on Sept. 16 less than a block from his home. About 10:30 that night, authorities say, the 30-year-old finished her shift as a CVS pharmacy technician; an hour later, her husband, Chad, came home and found her bleeding on the driveway. Joey Hattenbrun, the mother of a 3-year-old boy, was flown to Bayfront Medical Center, where she died.

Authorities were serving the search warrant on Hattenbrun's home as part of their investigation into her murder; they say he is a person of interest in the killing.

After Tuesday's alleged attack, Brett Hattenbrun was arrested on five counts of attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer and three counts of throwing a destructive device with intent to harm a person.

Sheriff Al Nienhuis said there was a significant fireball from the Molotov cocktail and called it a "minor miracle" that no deputies were harmed.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement will investigate the shooting. In that time, the deputy who fired the shots, Detective Bryan Faulkingham, will go on administrative leave with pay, which is customary in all deputy-involved shootings. The four other deputies on the scene did not fire.

Neighbors say they believe Hattenbrun had lived in his home alone in recent days because soon after his daughter-in-law's death, his wife moved into Chad Hattenbrun's house.

People who know him described Hattenbrun as strange, angry and abrasive.

Each morning, they say, he sipped on a cup of wine and walked his basset hound, "Yeller," around the neighborhood. At night when he walked the dog — sometimes after 10 p.m. — they say he drank whiskey.

"He's always with the dog and his cup," said Elaine Helmstetter, who lives on Noddy Tern Road. "You can smell it."

She and neighbor Linda Cook said several times they had seen him babbling and stumbling down the road. Also, they say, he often lifted his fist when he passed neighbors and yelled "power to the people!"

On Sept. 20, less than a quarter mile from where Joey Hattenbrun was found bleeding, deputies plucked from the brush a dark brown 2-by-4 a bit longer than a baseball bat.

As investigators worked at the scene, Hattenbrun drove up and stepped out of his car.

"Is this related to what happened to my son's wife?" he asked a detective.

When a Times reporter approached him, he shook his head, quickly got back in his vehicle and sped away.

Sheriff's officials later declined to say if the wood slab was the suspected murder weapon.

Hattenbrun was among the first people Don Cook met when he and his wife, Linda, moved into the neighborhood from New York six years ago.

Hattenbrun was always odd, he said. The 60-year-old once told Cook he had been fired from working in a corrections facility in Colorado because he used excessive force.

In the last few years, Cook said, Hattenbrun had worked at least three or four different jobs. Cook said Hattenbrun told him he'd been fired from some because he had issues with his bosses.

Cook stood in his front yard Tuesday afternoon when Joey Hattenbrun's mother, Carolyn Crouch, and one of the dead woman's sisters pulled up in a car.

"They came and took Brett away," Cook told them.

Instantly, both women began sobbing.

"They just broke down," he said.

As Mrs. Crouch and her daughter shuffled down the road toward Chad Hattenbrun's home, they held each other and wept.

Times photographer Will Vragovic, researcher Caryn Baird and reporter Logan Neill contributed to this report. John Woodrow Cox can be reached at (352) 848-1432 or jcox@sptimes.com.

Hernando deputies wound man they say threw firebomb at them 09/27/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 27, 2011 9:46pm]
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