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Suspects in custody, deputy back at work after shooting

Not long after a bullet hit a Pasco sheriff's deputy Thursday night, authorities blanketed Lacoochee with search dogs and a helicopter looking for the gunman.

The deputy survived, thanks in part to a metal business card holder that blocked the bullet. But two suspects slipped away.

It took three days for authorities to track them down. One of them, Robert Anthony Green, was found Sunday night not far from Sam's Quick Mart, where the shooting took place.

The sheriff's office says he was selling cell phones taken from the store.

A few hours later, authorities arrested an alleged accomplice, Antonio Lee Murray.

Green, 15, and Murray, 16, admitted to breaking into Sam's Quick Mart, 39010 State Road 575, through an air-conditioning vent, said Sgt. James Sessa Jr. They stole jewelry, electronics, clothing and the store owner's semiautomatic handgun.

When the store alarm went off and two deputies arrived, Sessa said, the teenage burglars panicked.

One of them — authorities aren't sure who — fired the gun at the front window. Sessa said the teens intended to break through the metal shutters covering the windows and escape. Instead, a bullet hit Deputy Jeffrey Chandler on the left side of his chest.

Green and Murray, both of whom had prior run-ins with the law, were each arrested on one count of armed burglary of a business.

The State Attorney's Office may file more serious charges related to the shooting of Chandler.

Steps away from the New Port Richey courthouse where the teens were arraigned Monday, Chandler, 31, called for a strong penalty.

"Something went wrong with them growing up, and whatever's influencing them is off," he said. "I don't think that they should get slapped on the wrist and sent off on their way."

The crime of shooting and striking a law enforcement officer with a firearm is punishable by a minimum of 25 years in prison. The maximum punishment is life in prison.

In court Monday, Circuit Judge Shawn Crane appointed the public defender's office to represent Green of 38548 Patti Lane, Lacoochee, and Murray of 37330 Oak St., Dade City.

The teens will be held for 21 days in the Juvenile Detention Center. That's how long the state has to file additional charges or decide to charge them as adults.

Though Chandler's bulletproof vest likely would have stopped the bullet, the metal business card case in his shirt pocket "definitely prevented further injury," sheriff's office spokesman Kevin Doll said.

The metal case was damaged beyond repair. Chandler said he planned to buy a new one, but his sergeant told him to wait.

"I don't know if he's got something in the works," Chandler said, smiling.

Thanks to that metal case and some good luck, Chandler only has a minor bruise from the shooting.

"It's definitely a miracle," said Chandler, who returned to active duty Monday. "I thank God for being here today."

Times writer Erin Sullivan contributed to this report. Nomaan Merchant can be reached at nmerchant@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6244.

Suspects in custody, deputy back at work after shooting 08/11/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 13, 2008 2:26pm]
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