RIVERVIEW — The couple struggled — each trying to get hold of the large-caliber revolver as three children watched from the back seat of the car.
The fighting couple had pulled over to the side of U.S. 301 just south of Symmes Road Thursday afternoon as they were being trailed by a Hillsborough sheriff's deputy who sensed trouble in an earlier encounter with them.
Sheriff's Cpl. Mark Clark fired a Taser into the 32-year-old Tampa man's thigh as he dangled out of the passenger door, according to sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon.
The man reacted to the shock, but still managed to kick the Taser away and keep trying to wrestle the gun away from the woman.
So Clark pulled his pistol and fired once, hitting the man in his upper body, killing him, said Sheriff David Gee.
No one else was injured, McKinnon said, and he praised the corporal for showing restraint in the risky situation.
"(Cpl. Clark) went way beyond normal protocols with a man and woman fighting over a gun," he said. "Obviously, he had to make a decision to keep the man from getting the gun free."
The incident began at 1 p.m. with a domestic disturbance 911 call that came from the Publix at 13154 S U.S. 301, according to the Sheriff's Office.
Clark, 47, a 23-year veteran with the Sheriff's Office, responded to an alert that a woman's boyfriend was threatening to kill her, McKinnon said.
As Clark arrived at the parking lot at Big Bend Road and U.S. 301, the woman "attempted to wave him off," said Gee. But the corporal sensed something was wrong, so he followed the Nissan Altima from several car lengths behind as the woman drove north on U.S. 301 with the three kids, believed to be 2, 6 and 12 years old, in the back seat.
Soon after, the couple pulled over south of Symmes Road on the east side of U.S. 301, where the highway is under construction. They appeared to be fighting again as Clark approached the passenger side and asked the man to step out, McKinnon said.
"He was sort of antsy the entire time they talked," McKinnon said of the man.
Suddenly, the man rushed back to the car and grabbed a pistol, Gee said.
The 30-year-old woman, who was sitting in the driver's seat, tried to grab the gun away from him, prompting Clark to pull his Taser and stun the man in an attempt to defuse the situation.
The man kicked the Taser away, and that's when Clark fired, Gee said.
"It looks pretty straight forward in that he did what he had to do," Gee said of Clark.
Noting that it was Christmas Eve, Gee said: "It's that time of the year, where we get a lot of domestic (disturbance calls). It's a stark reminder that public safety officers and firefighters, when we're enjoying the holidays, they're out there and dealing with this kind of stuff."
The nature of the dispute between the couple and the connection between the man, woman and children was not available Thursday night. It does appear, Gee said, that it was some type of family situation.
The kids were taken into custody by Child Protective Services. McKinnon said that the woman had previously sought a domestic injunction against the man.
Clark, a patrol supervisor in the Riverview area where the shooting occurred, was not injured. He has Gee's support in the way he handled the situation.
"There was a lot going on, and he was by himself," Gee said. "He did the best he could do. Bad outcome for the suspect, but we're just glad our deputy is okay."
Clark has never been involved in anything like this before, Gee explained. He has been a traffic homicide investigator and traffic safety specialist with the department.
McKinnon said Clark is on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of the investigation. "We're very lucky that this all didn't turn out much worse," he said.
Kevin Smetana can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2439.