A manhunt continued into the night for three suspects who robbed a Hernando County tourist attraction and shot the owner in the chest Wednesday afternoon.
Jim Oleson was tending the cash register at Boyett's Grove and Citrus Attraction on Spring Lake Highway at 2:43 p.m. when three young black men, two of whom wore Halloween masks entered the store, according to witnesses and a preliminary investigation by the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.
The suspects took an undisclosed amount of cash and shot the 58-year-old owner below the heart with a handgun. Oleson was airlifted to St. Joseph's hospital in Tampa where he underwent surgery in the evening and was listed in critical condition, authorities said.
A patron in the store was also robbed, but he was left unharmed. Oleson's wife, Kathy Boyett Oleson, also was in the store.
Perched on a hilltop of citrus groves in southeastern Hernando County, Boyett's Grove is part citrus stand and part Old Florida tourist-trap, complete with a small zoo featuring live alligators, monkeys and parrots.
Carol Francis was just finishing a tour of the zoo portion behind the shop with her daughter and two young grandchildren when someone at the back door told them the owner had been shot.
Francis, a retired nurse, told her daughter and grandchildren to go hide while she went inside to try to help Oleson, who was bleeding but conscious.
"He was behind the counter," she said. "There wasn't much I could do."
Ritch McFerren, 69, was pulling up to the shop to get some oranges when a man rushed out the door and told him to call 911. "I ran out to the truck to make the call," the Spring Hill resident said between cigarette puffs. "And I was on the phone with 911 when the first deputy arrived."
McFerren came from the south but said he didn't see the suspects or the white vehicle authorities were trying to locate.
Authorities described the first suspect as a black male, 20 to 25 years old and about 5-foot 10-inches. He is clean shaven and was wearing a white T-shirt and dark pants. The other two suspects wore Halloween-type masks and dark clothing, authorities said.
Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Donna Black said investigators are trying to locate a vehicle spotted at the scene at the time of the shooting. She described it as a late-80s model white Mercedes, a two-door coupe with a red hard top last seen driving south on U.S. 41.
Deputies spent the afternoon and evening searching the surrounding area by air in a helicopter and by ground with canine officers. Spring Lake Highway was closed for a time between State Road 50 and Powell Road.
Staff photographer Danny Ghitis contributed to this report. John Frank can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 754-6114.
Call the authorities
Anyone with information about the robbery and shooting should call the Hernando County Sheriff's Office at (352) 754-6830.