SEFFNER — Mike Yuna was standing outside a RaceTrac gas station Tuesday afternoon, sipping a Gatorade and smoking a cigarette when he heard someone scream, "Hands! Hands!" followed by the unmistakable pops of gunfire. He dived behind the ice machine.
Before the shooting, Yuna, 45, had been pondering what roads to walk along while hitchhiking to Fort Lauderdale to see his girlfriend, he said. He hadn't noticed the man with a face covered in tattoos pull into the station at County Road 579 and E Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, or the unmarked Hillsborough County sheriff's cars following him.
The man with the tattoos was Justin Wallace Bryant, 25, who was wanted by detectives for several charges of grand theft auto, the Sheriff's Office said. Bryant's criminal record includes 46 felony arrests and least 16 convictions, according to the Sheriff's Office and state records. State records also list 30 different tattoos on Bryant, who told the Sheriff's Office he was a self-employed tattoo artist when he was arrested July 19. The vehicle Bryant was driving — a beige Lincoln Navigator — was one he was suspected of stealing, sheriff's Col. Greg Brown said.
When detectives tried to arrest Bryant about 3:15 p.m., he jumped into the car and tried to drive off, almost running over two detectives in the process, according to Brown. Detectives Pat Saunders and Jeff Fender opened fire, hitting Bryant at least once in the chest, Brown said. Detective William Hyatt, who had also been in the path of the car, dived out of the way and moved a witness to safety, the Sheriff's Office said.
It was unclear Tuesday which detective shot Bryant, who was airlifted to Tampa General Hospital. The Sheriff's Office did not release his condition Tuesday evening. Hospital officials could not locate a patient by that name.
Both detectives — Fender, 48, has been with the Sheriff's Office for 18 years; Saunders, 38, is an eight-year veteran — were placed on administrative leave, standard policy in deputy-involved shootings. While the shooting is under investigation, Brown said the detectives acted in accord with Sheriff's Office policy to arrest suspects "as quickly and safely as possible." The decision to stop Bryant at the gas station, Brown said, prevented a potential chase.
"The information we got was that he did not plan on returning to jail," Brown said.
Bryant, who is from the Plant City area, did not have a weapon, although Brown said detectives had been told he was armed. A search of the Navigator would not be completed Tuesday night. The car came to rest diagonally against pump 19. A pool of blood stained the concrete under the driver's side.
The incident converted a suburban street corner into a crime scene Tuesday afternoon, drawing gawkers from those headed to and from nearby stores or Mango Elementary School.
A handful of RaceTrac customers who were there when the shooting happened had their cars stuck behind crime scene tape for hours. RaceTrac employees and customers, who drove away about 7:30 p.m., declined to comment.
Yuna had no car, so he just walked across the street after the shooting and sat on the grass to watch Brown brief reporters. When he heard what caused the shooting, he shook his head.
"When the cops point their guns at you and say, 'Hands,' " Yuna said, "you should probably do what they say."
Will Hobson can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or [email protected]