SAFETY HARBOR — A Safety Harbor man suspected in the shooting death of his mother died early Saturday after deputies shot him after he pointed a shotgun toward three of them from inside a car, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said.
A neighbor told deputies he heard what sounded like a shot about 1:30 a.m., but didn't call authorities about it, Gualtieri said. Later, the suspect, identified as John Clark, called a friend in Illinois and said he had killed his mother and didn't want to go to jail. The friend called authorities, and Pinellas deputies arrived at 64-year-old Susan Clark's condominium at 2360 Flanders Way, Unit A at about 2:30 a.m., Inside, they found Susan Clark's body. She had been shot with a shotgun and wrapped in blankets on the floor of the living room.
Clark, 35, who lived with his mother, was not in the home. Detectives believed he was still in the area based on GPS information from his mobile phone.
At about 4:20 a.m., deputies spotted him driving slowly in his mother's blue Volkswagen Eos toward the condo, which is south of Enterprise Road, about a mile west of Philippe Park. Gualtieri said deputies approached the passenger's side of the car and could see a 12 gauge shotgun on Clark's lap.
"They were telling him, 'Drop the gun! Stop the car! Drop the gun! Stop the car!'," Gualtieri said. "He did neither."
Instead, with the car still moving, Clark took the gun from between his legs and pointed toward the passenger's window, the sheriff said. Three deputies on that side of the car shot Clark, who was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, where he died.
Gualtieri said it was possible that it was a "suicide by cop" death.
"There are pointers where you could draw that inference," he said.
None of the deputies were hurt. Brian Williams, 37, has been with the Sheriff's Office since 2005. Brennen Wede, 36, was hired in 2014, and Chris Amatruda, 33, was hired in 2016.
As is standard following a deputy shooting, the three will be placed on administrative leave until cleared to return to work by a Sheriff's Office psychologist. Gualtieri said the State Attorney's Office will also conduct its own investigation.
John Clark had little or no known criminal history, and the Sheriff's Office had no record of calls to the home, Gualtieri said. But he said John Clark's sister in Texas told investigators that her brother had drug and mental health problems, and that his mother was trying to get him into treatment.
"This is one of those things that, unfortunately, we see play out time and time again," Gualtieri said. "You have an adult male that has mental health issues, that has drug problems, that has addiction issues. ... I'm not saying for sure it happened here, because we don't know, but it's pointing in that direction. The mother is trying to give him help, trying to get him into treatment, and when they start pushing these people and trying to get them help and get them into treatment, then something happens and they snap and you end with this type of situation. So this is what it looks like, but again that's preliminary."
Detectives working the case will continue to investigate what led to the shooting through interviews with family members and evidence such a cellphone text messages, Gaultieri said. But he acknowledged that it may be difficult. During his call to his friend in Illinois, John Clark did not reveal why he had shot his mother.
"The two people who know what happened in that home are both deceased," Gualtieri said. "We have to try and piece the puzzle together and figure it out."
Contact Richard Danielson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times