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Hillsborough deputies who stopped rampage honored

TAMPA — From the ground, wounded Deputy Ray Wilson kept his focus on the woods.

The man who'd shot him was now on top of him, screaming and grabbing for Wilson's pistol.

"All I wanted to do was hold on to my gun for dear life and keep it pointed to the woods in case it discharged so it wouldn't hurt anybody," Wilson remembered Tuesday, three months later.

The next thing Wilson knew, the man went limp atop him, killed by the bullet of a young deputy named Malachi McCoy — a partner Wilson barely knew, a man he believes saved his life.

"What do you say to a person like that?" Wilson asked Tuesday, as news reporters listened. "That's something I will live with forever."

Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee honored McCoy Tuesday with the Medal of Honor for his swift actions ending a bloody rampage by a man who had already killed three people the morning of June 7.

Wilson and Deputy Arturo "Art" Lence were each given the Silver Cross Award, bestowed on those who are injured in the line of duty.

A bullet struck Wilson in the arm. Lence, the most seriously hurt, suffered one gunshot to his leg and another that went through his stomach, punctured his bladder and came out his back. He is still recovering.

"We did what we had to do," said Lence, a 17-year veteran with the department, who has not yet returned to work. "It was a small price to pay for the end result."

Jorge Bello Garcia, 54, fatally shot his estranged wife, Gina Marie Lamantia-Bello, 44, and two of her friends — Hillsborough Fire Rescue Capt. Chris Artigas, 45, and Regina Ann Coffaro, 44 — at Lamantia-Bello's home in Carrollwood. Then he took off in his red pickup truck.

When deputies responding to a dispatcher's alert stopped Garcia's truck at Henderson Road near Linebaugh Avenue, he fired, hitting Wilson once and Lence twice.

Far from the violence of that Saturday, the three deputies stood quietly before their families and peers, clutching certificates and medals as a room full of people stood and applauded.

Six others who responded to the violent call were also honored. Hugs and handshakes, pats and snapshots replaced the ugliness, but not the gravity, of that crime scene.

"Thank you, guys," Gee whispered to them away from the microphone. "I appreciate it."

Though McCoy has received some of the highest praise for his quick actions, he looked to the men beside him with respect, tears welling as reporters asked him to talk about it.

"The guys are warriors," he said. "They don't stop. They're not going to let even a bullet stop them if they can help it, and I'm proud to work with them."

Wilson, a deputy for 27 years, returned to work five weeks afterward. He said a day doesn't pass when he doesn't think about shooting.

"I don't dwell on it," he said. "But, going through an incident like that, it makes you look at life a lot different. … It makes me enjoy the little things a lot more."

The other deputies honored for their work capturing Garcia were Sgt. Carmine Pisano, Cpl. Jean Becker, Cpl. Jose Silva, Cpl. Robert Melton, Deputy Melvin Jones and Deputy Connie Holloway.

McCoy said he hopes the recognition brings closure. The 29-year-old deputy said Garcia's actions forced him to do what he was trained to do, not something he wanted to do. Despite the praise, he hasn't lost sight of that.

"Four people died that day," McCoy said. "It was an awful, awful day."

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.

Hillsborough deputies who stopped rampage honored 09/09/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 10, 2008 2:46pm]
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