SHADY HILLS — Jonathan Whitten has never had martial arts training. He doesn't even know what he was thinking at the time, really. All he knew that night in the Circle K parking lot, staring into the darkness at the end of the barrel, was that he had to find a way to get the gun away from the other man.
• • •
Whitten, 22, stopped at the Circle K at 18941 Old Shady Hills Road, just south of the Pasco-Hernando county line, just before 10 p.m. Nov. 18 for allergy medicine before going to his girlfriend's house, he said. Two men, one in a black hooded sweatshirt, the other in gray, hoods up, walked in. They kept up with him through the aisles. One of the men "kept looking at me weird," Whitten said.
The men didn't buy anything, according to a Pasco County Sheriff's Office report released on Thursday. They slipped out the door. Whitten paid for his medicine and walked into the parking lot where he saw the men sitting on a walkway on one end of the building.
He walked to his red Jeep Cherokee and, with his back to the men, unlocked the door. He glanced in the window reflection to keep an eye on them, but they were gone.
Whitten felt someone behind him.
He spun around and met the nose of the barrel.
"Give me everything you got," he says the man told him.
"Get that BB gun out of my face," Whitten said.
Then he realized the barrel was too wide for a BB gun.
Whitten doesn't know what made him act next.
"I didn't want to give them another second to think of their next move," he said. "I was thinking 'get ahold of that gun.'"
He grabbed the gun, with the gunman's hand still on it, and pointed it back at him.
Whitten kicked him against another car. He landed two punches on the gunman's face before the other assailant stepped in and sprayed Whitten in the face with what he thinks must have been pepper spray.
The man with the spray punched Whitten in his jaw. The gunman joined in. Four fists flew at Whitten. He leaned against his Jeep, then ran back into the store where a clerk called 911 and handed the phone to Whitten. He looked out the store's window, he said, and saw the two men running south on Shady Hills Road. Deputies have not arrested any suspects in the case.
When deputies arrived, he told them what happened. That the men hadn't made off with any of his things, but he must have dropped his keys in the fight. He couldn't find them anywhere. Whitten never got the gun out of his assailant's hand, and he said he suspected the gunman still had it with him.
Deputies took a report. Whitten had his car towed back to his house where the men, if they did have his keys, wouldn't be able to find it. His girlfriend picked him up and they went to her house for macaroni and cheese, stuffing and hot dogs.
The next day, Whitten had a new key to his Jeep made. He said he unlocked the door and found the first set of keys next to the driver's seat where they had been all along. He had a speck of blood on his arm from when he fell against his door and a sore jaw for four days, but is fine now.
Whitten isn't sure how he held his own. He's never taken martial arts classes, and at 6 feet tall, 180 pounds, isn't a particularly buff guy. He works as a bar back and washes cars for a living. He works at a tree service in his spare time.
He's heard advice from authorities to surrender everything in those situations, and he's glad he didn't follow it.
"I could have given them everything I had, and they still could have shot me," said Whitten, who is looking into getting a concealed weapons permit. "Next time they go to rob somebody at gunpoint, maybe they'll think twice."
Alex Orlando can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.