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"It was kill or be killed'

Published Oct. 10, 2005

A Polk County Jail inmate who said he would die before going back to jail overpowered a jail guard, stole a car and led police on chase Wednesday that ended in a stream of bullets.

Tommie Calvin Williams, 36, of Winter Haven died as he dropped to one knee and shot it out with police, the smell of spent gunpowder lingering several minutes in the quiet Winter Haven neighborhood.

"It was kill or be killed," said Sheriff Lawrence W. Crow Jr., who joined the chase. "I've never seen a more justified shooting in my 30 years of law enforcement."

A deputy, Tom Dixon, was treated and released from Winter Haven Hospital after suffering minor injuries when he rammed the car Williams was driving. A bullet that lodged in Dixon's patrol car missed his head by inches.

Williams fired a least a dozen shots at police and deputies while being chased from Lakeland, through Auburndale and into Winter Haven in a stolen 1982 Camaro.

The incident began at 10:35 a.m. in a Lakeland psychiatrist's office. It ended about an hour later in Nona Gerlach's well-kept front yard.

Williams was stopped after Dixon rammed the rear of the stolen Camaro with his cruiser. Williams lost control of his car, spinning to a stop in the yard.

Dixon was trapped in his car by a jammed driver's side door.

Williams jumped out of the Camaro, dropped to one knee and began firing at Dixon, trapped 20 feet away.

Dixon returned fire through his window, emptying his 14-shot, 9mm handgun.

Lakeland police and Winter Haven police, who had screeched to a stop 20 feet away, burst out of their patrol cars and began shooting at Williams.

"When I stopped, he was behind the back of his car," Lakeland police Sgt. Luther said. "He was down on one knee firing at the deputy. As I got ready to squeeze one off, I saw him roll over. As I approached him, I kept my gun aimed at his head. I checked for a pulse and didn't get any."

Williams was shot twice, in the head and in the leg, in the battle against seven officers. He died before an ambulance arrived, clutching the 9mm gun he had taken from the corrections officer in his right hand and a fresh clip in his left hand.

Bullet holes riddled the Camaro and Gerlach's home.

Shocked neighbors slowly emerged from their homes as deputies covered Williams' body with a white sheet.

"I heard the shots," said R.A. Anderson, who lives on Biltmore Drive, yards from the gun fight. "Police cars were everywhere. I thought this was a quiet neighborhood."

The escape attempt began after Williams was taken from the Polk County Jail to a psychiatrist's office in downtown Lakeland for a court-ordered exam, Lakeland police said.

Corrections Officer William Beasock, who accompanied Williams, removed handcuffs from Williams after they were in the office, he said.

Williams slipped behind Beasock, overpowered him and grabbed his gun.

"He kept telling people in the office that he'd rather die than go back to jail," Anderson said. "He said he didn't want to hurt anybody."

Williams ordered the psychiatrist, Dr. Thomas McClane, to put the handcuffs on Beasock's wrists, police said. Williams bound McLane's secretary and a patient with telephone cords.

After shedding his bright-orange jail uniform, he changed into McClane's clothing and bound the psychiatrist with the ankle shackles he had been wearing.

Minutes later the chase began.