NEW PORT RICHEY — The officer works midnights, 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., and he's been doing this for 14 years.
He knew something wasn't right.
He had pulled over a Honda Civic for a traffic violation about 1:45 a.m. Thursday. The car pulled behind a Burger King off Main Street, just west of U.S. 19. There were four people inside the black two-door coupe: three men and a woman.
The officer told them to step out of the car. Three did.
The fourth, a man, in the back on the passenger's side, refused.
The officer called for backup.
Another New Port Richey officer arrived, as well as a Pasco sheriff's deputy who was in the area. The officers leaned on the passenger's side door, talking with the man in the back, said Lt. Steve Kostas, a police spokesman.
The deputy went around to the driver's side to get a better view.
He saw a gun underneath the man's leg.
"Gun!" the deputy shouted, Kostas said. "There's a gun!"
As the veteran officer wheeled back, the man fired from the car, Kostas said. The officer saw the muzzle flash. He felt the bullet whiz past his head.
The officers and the deputy returned fire, spraying the car with bullets.
The shots killed the man, Jason Wilson, a 29-year-old whose first arrest was at 15 for carrying a concealed weapon.
The officers and deputy were not injured. Their names were not released Thursday, as well as the names of the three passengers, as they are all witnesses in an ongoing investigation. Pasco sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll said the Honda had been pulled over for having faulty equipment.
It's not yet clear how many rounds were fired or whose bullet or bullets killed Wilson, Doll said.
"In shootings like this when there's multiple officers firing their weapons, we have to wait on an autopsy and forensic evidence to see who actually killed the suspect," Doll said.
The Pasco deputy was in the area when the traffic stop was called, and it is common for deputies to assist local police, Doll said.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Pasco-Pinellas State Attorney's Office are conducting the investigation into the shooting. The officers and deputy are on paid administrative leave until the investigation concludes, as is protocol.
Wilson's criminal background includes two stints in prison, a total of nearly four years, for aggravated assault with a weapon, intimidating witnesses, cocaine possession and, in 2007, for introducing contraband into a detention facility: He sent marijuana and rolling papers to his brother, an inmate at the Pasco County Jail.
In September, Wilson was stopped in Port Richey because his license didn't match his car. He had a gun in his waistband, which he tried to hide under the driver's seat, a report states. He was charged with carrying a concealed firearm. The case had not yet been to trial.
Wilson's sister, Angela Benjamin, 35, said he had a 3-month-old daughter, whom he adored. She learned Thursday that Wilson's fiancee is pregnant again. Benjamin said her brother wasn't good or bad, but a mix of both, like most people.
"He had problems," she said.
But she never thought he would pull a gun on cops. Like many in the Tampa Bay area, Benjamin has been horrified by the recent murders of law enforcement officers: Tampa Cpl. Michael Roberts, shot and killed Aug. 19, 2009; Tampa Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab, killed during a traffic stop June 29; and St. Petersburg canine Officer Jeffrey Adam Yaslowitz, 39, and Sgt. Thomas J. Baitinger, 48, killed by a fugitive on Jan. 24.
"Everyone has a job to do. Those cops felt like they were in danger," Benjamin said. "They are people too. They have families at home.
"Luckily none of them got hurt."
Kostas said the veteran officer, who is married with children, is shaken up. But he and the other officer, who has been on the force for about a year, are doing okay.
"This was a real close call for us," Kostas said.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy and staff writer Ileana Morales contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.