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Suspect in Hillsborough deputy’s death had fought with cops before

Travis Zachary Garrett remained hospitalized Wednesday as prosecutors sought to have him jailed without bail.

TAMPA — Three years before he was accused of intentionally ramming a car into a Hillsborough County sheriff’s patrol cruiser, killing a deputy, Travis Zachary Garrett had another violent encounter with law enforcement in Georgia, prosecutors say.

It happened May 29, 2017, on Interstate 95 in Camden County, Ga., south of Savannah. Deputies there saw Garrett walking on a ramp toward the highway.

Told to stop, Garrett ignored them. He began to fight as a deputy tried to stop him from walking into traffic. Other deputies arrived as Garrett walked across the busy interstate. He continued to fight, hitting and kicking the deputies as they tried to subdue him with jolts from a Taser, which had little effect. Two deputies suffered demobilizing injuries. One of them also suffered a head wound that required staples.

Although he was charged with multiple offenses, Garrett’s case in Georgia was later dismissed. Court paperwork indicates he was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and participated in mental health treatment at a veterans hospital in Gainesville, Fla.

Tampa prosecutors included details of the Georgia case in a pretrial detention motion they filed Wednesday as they sought to have Garrett held without bail. He faces first-degree murder and other charges related to the death of Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Cpl. Brian LaVigne.

Related: A Hillsborough deputy was almost to retirement. Then a fleeing suspect took a fatal turn.

On Monday afternoon, Hillsborough deputies were called to the Paddock Club apartments in Brandon, where it was reported that Garrett was walking around naked, breaking things and acting erratically. He first ignored the deputies, then attacked them, again enduring Taser jolts before fleeing in a Nissan Maxima, prosecutors said.

Garrett rammed through an iron exit gate, fleeing south on Brandon Parkway as sheriff’s cars followed with lights flashing, prosecutors said. He turned west on Lumsden Road.

LaVigne, who was not yet involved in the pursuit, was parked a few hundred yards away. His fellow deputies watched as the Nissan cut across two lanes of traffic, heading for him.

“He’s aiming for your car!” Deputy Eric Leshick said over a radio. “Get out of the way!”

The Nissan slammed into the driver’s side of LaVigne’s patrol cruiser, causing “catastrophic crush damage,” prosecutors wrote.

Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Corporal Brian LaVigne was responding to a pursuit when a fleeing suspect slammed into his car, resulting in a "catastrophic" damage and killing Lavigne just a day before he was to end a 30-year career in retirement.
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Corporal Brian LaVigne was responding to a pursuit when a fleeing suspect slammed into his car, resulting in a "catastrophic" damage and killing Lavigne just a day before he was to end a 30-year career in retirement. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

LaVigne, 54, who was one shift away from retiring after a 30-year career, was trapped. Rescue workers pried him from the wreckage. He was later pronounced dead at Tampa General Hospital.

Deputies pulled Garrett from the Nissan. He was described as “elevated and rambling” and showed signs of being impaired. A urine test at the hospital was positive for cocaine and marijuana, according to the state’s motion.

“The defendant’s violent and irrational actions have escalated in intensity,” Assistant State Attorney Stephanie Pizarro wrote. “While members of the Camden County Sheriff’s Office were fortunate enough to only suffer injuries that were medically treatable, Corporal LaVigne’s life was forever intentionally ended on Jan. 11, 2021.”

Garrett, 28, remained hospitalized Wednesday, and was not present for the first hearing in his court case.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Catherine Catlin ordered that Garrett be held without bail on the murder charge until a detention hearing could occur.

The next court date was set for Jan. 25.

Garrett’s 2017 arrest in Georgia happened about a month after he underwent an involuntary mental health examination under Florida’s Baker Act.

A Pasco County Sheriff’s Office report states that on April 27, 2017, deputies encountered Garrett after they responded to a report of a person making “suicidal threats” at a home in Wesley Chapel.

A woman, identified in the report as Garrett’s girlfriend, told deputies that he had recently been treated for bipolar disorder at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa. She said he had cut his hand that evening when he punched a car, breaking a window. She phoned for help after hearing him say that he “wanted to die tonight,” according to the report. The deputies took Garrett to a local hospital.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office announced Wednesday that Cpl. LaVigne’s funeral will be held Tuesday at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz. A visitation will begin at 10 a.m. with a funeral service to follow at 11 a.m. Members of the public are welcome to attend.

The Sheriff’s Office is taking donations to support Cpl. LaVigne’s family. Anyone interested in donating is asked to do so through the Lynn Sowers Memorial Fund. For more information, visit www.teamhcso.com/BrianLaVigne.

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