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Homemade explosive device causes deputy to lose fingers, Polk sheriff says

Deputy Eric Lawes and suspect Marco Antonio Tolentino were taken to an area hospital for treatment.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd holds a photo of Marco Antonio Tolentino during a news conference Monday in Winter Haven. Judd said a deputy was injured when a homemade explosive device in Tolentino's possession went off Sunday.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd holds a photo of Marco Antonio Tolentino during a news conference Monday in Winter Haven. Judd said a deputy was injured when a homemade explosive device in Tolentino's possession went off Sunday. [ Still from Polk County Sheriff's Office video on Facebook ]
Published Aug. 9
Updated Aug. 9

A Polk County Sheriff’s Office deputy was injured when a homemade explosive device in a suspect’s possession went off Sunday, officials said.

Sheriff’s officials said Deputy Eric Lawes, 33, was investigating a domestic disturbance at the Economy Motor Lodge in Dundee when a pipe possessed by 39-year-old Marco Antonio Tolentino fired off a 12-gauge shotgun shell. The single round struck Lawe’s hand as well as Tolentino’s hand and shoulder.

The Sheriff’s Office said Lawes was transported to the hospital with a serious hand injury, causing him to lose two fingers. Tolentino was also transported and is being treated for non-life-threatening injuries. Both are in stable condition.

According to the Sheriff’s Office report, the domestic disturbance being investigated was apparently unrelated to the incident involving the explosive device.

After deputies arrived Tolentino approached the scene on a bicycle. Lawes began to interact with Tolentino, who, according to the Sheriff’s Office, was being evasive about who he was and said he did not have identification.

During the interaction, Lawes asked Tolentino if he had anything illegal on him. That’s when Tolentino lifted his shirt and showed a metal pipe, saying he had the item for protection, according to a press release.

A portion of the pipe was inside Tolentino’s right pocket and extended upward to the abdomen under the shirt. Tolentino reached for the pipe and Lawes stopped him, saying he would retrieve the item, the Sheriff’s Office said.

According to the press release, both Lawes and Tolentino reached for the item, with Tolentino trying to pull it away from the deputy. That’s when the pipe came apart and exploded.

Polk authorities said the device, also known as a zip gun, has two interlocking pieces of metal pipe that hold a single shotgun shell. When pressed together, the device is designed to fire the single projectile.

Officials said during a search of Tolentino’s room, additional shotgun rounds of the same nature were located and recovered. Only one shot was fired and no deputies fired any weapons.

“They anticipate that Deputy Lawes will be released from the hospital this afternoon,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.

As a result of the investigation, Tolentino has been charged with:

  • Attempted felony murder
  • Possessing or discharging a destructive device
  • Resisting an officer with violence
  • Carrying a concealed weapon/firearm
  • Providing false information to a law enforcement officer

Tolentino is in custody at an area hospital.

The investigation is ongoing.

The protocol for a deputy-involved shooting — though in this case, no deputy fired shots — includes three independent investigations: a Polk County Sheriff’s Office criminal investigation, an administrative inquiry and a separate review conducted by the State Attorney’s Office.