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Plant City police shootout kills man driving by

An employee of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office takes notes at the scene of a fatal shooting Friday in Plant City. During a police shootout with a man they had chased, a stray bullet fatally hit Candelario Lagunes in the head.

MARTHA RIAL | Times

An employee of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office takes notes at the scene of a fatal shooting Friday in Plant City. During a police shootout with a man they had chased, a stray bullet fatally hit Candelario Lagunes in the head.

PLANT CITY — As the city woke up Friday, a man and his father left home on an errand. Not far away, residents set out chairs in preparation for the evening's Christmas parade.

Unbeknownst to anyone, sheriff's deputies were speeding through town, pursuing a man they believed to be a murderer.

Just after 9:15 a.m., their suspect jumped out of an SUV with an assault rifle and opened fire on everything around him.

Seventeen bullets pierced three undercover sheriff's vehicles carrying five detectives. Two deputies shot back.

The suspect sped off. Deputies took inventory and felt relief — none had been hit.

Then, a man stepped forward. His father, Candelario Lagunes, 58, had been in the passenger seat of their Volks­wagen Jetta when a stray bullet cut through the back window and struck him in the head. Deputies later concluded that the fatal bullet was fired by the suspect.

By late afternoon, the bloodshed and manhunt that followed would leave 15 schools locked down, cancel the Christmas parade and terrify residents. But deputies ultimately found their suspect and charged him with killing two men, wounding another and trying to kill five more.

• • •

Henry Lagunes had been driving his father south toward Publix, heading for the ATM, when they passed the shootout taking place on the northbound side of James L. Redman Parkway, a divided highway, at Henry Avenue.

Lagunes was taken to Lakeland Regional Medical Center, where he died.

"Why? Why would a good person be killed by such a bad person?" asked Mario Lagunes, 30, another of the victim's sons.

The tragedy paralyzed parts of Plant City for almost seven hours as 250 deputies, Highway Patrol troopers and police descended on the town of 30,000.

Fransisco "Casper" Rangel, 25, was armed and on the loose.

Deputies say his bullets disabled two of the detectives' cars. But Sgt. Michael Hurley's green unmarked cruiser was drivable. He sped after Rangel, as other deputies poured in behind him.

On E Tever Street near E Collins Street in Plant City's Historic District, Paula and Paul Hawkins had sat down to enjoy a cup of coffee on their front porch when the sheriff's cruisers flooded their street.

"Go inside and lock your doors!" a deputy shouted.

They complied. Fast.

• • •

The neighborhood, with its brick streets, big porches and Spanish moss, was suddenly hostage to the manhunt.

Rangel abandoned his white Ford Expedition a block south, at Collins and Calhoun. Inside, detectives found an assault rifle.

Deputies blocked a perimeter from Frontage Road in the north to Calhoun Street in the south, and from Shannon Avenue in the east to Wheeler Road in the west.

Bloodhounds and deputies searched door to door; a sheriff's helicopter scanned from above.

When the search continued past 2 p.m., school officials froze all bus transportation and kept students from walking home until deputies would give the all-clear.

The city canceled its 25th annual Christmas parade, set for Friday night, an event that draws tens of thousands — including the close-knit Lagunes family. Plant City Mayor Rick Lott said he knew that would disappoint many, but "there's a family in mourning."

At 3:55 p.m., Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee stood before cameras, warning that the search was expanding because the suspect could have escaped the perimeter.

Behind him, law enforcement vehicles filled two block-sized parking lots outside First Baptist Church where he'd set up a command post. As news cameras rolled, a major tapped Gee on the shoulder and whispered.

Gee stepped back to face the cameras: "We're told we have him in custody."

• • •

They spotted Rangel outside an abandoned house at E Tever Street and N Collins Street— four houses from the Hawkins' home.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said Rangel was dirty, as if he had been hiding out under the house or in the woods behind it.

Sheriff's bloodhounds had picked up his scent in that same area earlier in the day.

"It's terrifying to know we were in the house all day long and he was four houses from us," said Paula Hawkins, 43.

After spending the day stranded indoors, neighbors gathered outside, relieved by an arrest before the uncertainty of nightfall.

Deputies stood guard outside 102 W Tever St., as a search dog continued to sniff for evidence.

Rangel was initially suspected of killing Michael James Longoria, 36, and wounding a second, unidentified man Thursday.

Friday's events began as deputies went to a house to serve a warrant on Rangel and spotted him in a car. He fled, waving his gun out the window, and they pursued.

Gee said Rangel's tattoos led authorities to believe he was a gang member. Booking photos show what looks like a "13" tattooed under Rangel's right eye.

Gee would not say whether two victims shot Thursday were gang members. But, he said, the house where those shootings occurred, 3506 Juanita Drive, is known for gang activity.

• • •

Rangel was charged with one count of first-degree murder, one count of second-degree murder, five counts of attempted first-degree murder on a law enforcement officer and one count of attempted first-degree murder with a firearm.

Deputies and other officers patted each other on the backs as they packed up after 4:30 p.m.

Gee said he was thankful deputies escaped uninjured.

Rangel shot Cpl. Mitch Messer and Herb Saumell's silver Chevy at least six times during the gun battle. And Cpl. Frank Losat and Jose Lugo's red Chevrolet took at least three bullets, Carter said.

Near Candelario Lagunes' home on Lee Street, family and friends gathered and grieved.

They described the father of three and grandfather of four as someone whose moral code set an example for his entire family.

"It's just hard when somebody else takes the life of someone who was so good to society," Mario Lagunes said.

Times researcher John Martin and staff writers Justin George and Robbyn Mitchell contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.

Plant City police shootout kills man driving by 12/05/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 10:38pm]
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