HUDSON — Deputies shot and wounded a 79-year-old man who fired at them at a gas station early Saturday, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.
The man was rambling and appeared confused, saying he thought people were listening to him, according to Sheriff’s Office body camera footage. He later made vague statements about hurting other people and himself, deputies said.
“He starts rambling stuff, saying stuff about how he wants to kill somebody,” Sheriff Chris Nocco said. “He wants to drive his vehicle into the gas pumps to kill people.”
The wounded man, James Zambrotto, was being treated in the intensive-care unit of a local hospital. The sheriff discussed the shooting at a news conference held Saturday hours after the shooting.
”Thank God the deputies are okay,” Nocco said. “But I go back to this: I wish to God nobody was harmed today. I wish the situation would have deescalated.”
No deputies were injured. The shooting is now being investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The Sheriff’s Office did not release the names of the deputies involved. Two deputies fired their weapons.
The incident took place about 6:09 a.m. at the RaceTrac at 16640 U.S. 19 N, near Little Road. A deputy was pumping gas when Zambrotto approached him and began rambling, saying he wanted to drive his car into the gas pumps to cause an explosion, Nocco said. After talking to the man and offering to get a cup of coffee with him to deescalate the situation, the deputy called for backup.
The Sheriff’s Office released an edited 26½-minute video of the encounter, captured from several deputies’ cameras. It shows Zambrotto in his car, refusing to get out.
One of the deputies who arrived was a hostage negotiator. For about 40 minutes, Nocco said deputies tried to talk with Zambrotto, who also expressed a desire to shoot people. They placed tire-deflation spikes around his car and parked a sheriff’s vehicle in front of him so he could not drive away.
The first several minutes of the video released by the Sheriff’s Office show the deputy peppering the man with questions about what the man was doing and whether he had family in the area.
“Sir, you’re trying to make me say a whole bunch of things,” the man said at one point.
”I’m trying to figure out what the hell’s going on, man,” the deputy said.
The man told the deputy he thought people were listening to him through a speaker in his car and that they know where he is at all times. He said he was a military veteran from Port Richey with family in the area.
”You guys (police) keep doing the same thing,” he told the deputy. “You’re saying I’m a nut, I’m going to try to hurt somebody. I’m not trying to hurt nobody.”
The deputy offered several times to buy the man a cup of coffee, which he declined. At one point, the video cuts off and picks back up showing the man had moved his car farther from the deputy and appeared to have his brake lights on.
The deputy asked him to put his car in neutral, saying he wanted to show the man something. After another break in the video, it picks back up after backup deputies arrived at the gas station.
“You think I want to die and hit that gas pump and blow up?” the man said to another deputy. “That’s what’s going to happen.”
He then motioned at a red car in the parking lot and said he could have hit the car several times throughout the night. Then, deputies moved a cruiser in front of the man’s car, and the man said he was going to ram that vehicle, too.
”Go ahead and shoot me now,” the man said.
”We don’t want to shoot you, sir,” the deputy said.
Deputies soon surrounded the car and trying to talk the man down, according to the video. He then reached for a gun. A deputy drew his firearm and aimed at the man, begging him to put down his gun.
“Please do not do this to me. I do not want to live with this,” the deputy said, pleading for the man to put his hands on the steering wheel.
A second deputy pepper sprayed Zambrotto through the car’s open left rear window. Then the man accelerated forward, ramming the sheriff’s vehicle parked in front of him.
Deputies started trying to break the front two windows of the car and kept watching the man’s hands to make sure he didn’t pick up the gun. Then about 6:47 a.m., Nocco said, a deputy saw the man reach for the gun. Multiple gunshots can be heard in the video.
Zambrotto does not have any documented mental illnesses, nor has he had any previous contact with Pasco deputies for criminal activity, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Nocco said the incident showed how quickly a situation can turn violent. A deputy stopping for gas turns “into an incident where somebody gets shot.”
”It’s a tragedy,” the sheriff said. “Unfortunately because of his actions, we had to take action.”