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Dunedin Causeway standoff is over; armed man is in custody

DUNEDIN — A standoff between an armed motorist and Pinellas County sheriff's deputies that closed the Dunedin Causeway for most of Monday afternoon and into the evening ended peacefully when the motorist surrendered about 8 p.m.

The armed man was identified as Fred W. Mock, 44, of 1309 Oleander Drive in Tarpon Springs. He was taken to a local hospital for a psychiatric evaluation after the standoff, said Cecilia Barreda, a Sheriff's Office spokeswoman.

The causeway was reopened about 8:30 p.m.

Cousins Jason Wilhelm and Jessica Guggi saw the confrontation that led authorities to close both directions of the causeway for seven hours.

Wilhelm and Guggi had parked alongside the causeway and spread out towels to sunbathe when deputies pulled over a late-model silver pickup truck just after 1 p.m.

From about 25 feet away, Wilhelm and Guggi watched as a deputy approached the pickup. The truck's driver rolled down the driver's side window and leaned out with a handgun pointed to his head, they said.

"He's got this gun to his head, and you could see his hand shaking," said Guggi, 23, of Safety Harbor. "We were just laying on our beach towels and we both tipped our heads up almost in disbelief."

The deputy immediately backed away, got behind his cruiser and asked the driver to "please put that down," said Wilhelm, 25, who was on his last day of vacation from Rome, N.Y.

At one point, Wilhelm said, the driver asked deputies, "Did my girlfriend send you? Did my girlfriend tell you to pick me up?"

In response, the deputy told the driver that no, they hadn't talked to anyone. Rather, he said they pulled the pickup truck over because of a faulty taillight.

At one point, the driver used a cell phone with his other hand to make a call, but he never lowered the gun from his head, Wilhelm said.

As more deputies arrived and closed off the road, Wilhelm, Guggi and other bystanders were moved hundreds of yards from the scene. Authorities asked news helicopters to stay away because their noise was interfering with negotiators' attempts to talk to the man.

SWAT deputies wearing combat gear and carrying rifles arrived, some by boat, and the frustration of those stranded by the standoff grew.

Residents of nearby condos handed out bottles of water to some, and a Haagen-Dazs delivery driver threw open the back of his truck and started handing out free ice cream.

Still, many motorists and visitors complained that they had been caught out in a beating sun without sunscreen or water. At one point, a frustrated bystander screamed into the face of a heavily armed SWAT team member.

Linda Crider, executive director of Bike Florida, a bicycling advocacy group that was taking a group ride to Honeymoon Island, said, "We have 35 people captive'' on the island.

With the standoff going into its seventh hour, sheriff's officials made arrangements for motorists to leave the island.

Authorities parked an armored sheriff's vehicle between the armed man's pickup truck and the road, shielding a stretch of the causeway. Then a state trooper led convoys of 15 to 20 cars off the island and over the causeway to the mainland.

On the way out, motorists could see heavily camouflaged SWAT team snipers lying down across the road from the pickup truck.

The first convoy to leave included a pickup truck with five people, including a badly sunburned girl, hunkered down in the bed of the truck.

Times staff writer Eileen Schulte contributed to this report.

Dunedin Causeway standoff is over; armed man is in custody 03/31/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 7, 2008 4:49pm]
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