MULBERRY — Two men fleeing from authorities across two counties were shot and injured as they tried to run down three Polk County deputies, Sheriff Grady Judd said.
“They thought that they would outrun the law, but the law won,” Judd said during a news conference at the scene of the shooting, an industrial park near State Road 60 West and Prairie Industrial Parkway. The men, both of whom have served time in prison, were hit by a number of rounds but were expected to survive, Judd said.
James Carlton Hilburn Jr., 27, of Riverview, the driver, was shot in the face and grazed by bullets on both legs, the Sheriff’s Office said. He remained in a medically induced coma Friday afternoon and his condition was described as stable but critical.
Justin Alan Norris, 25, of Dover, was shot in the leg and grazed by bullets on both arms. He was taken to a hospital for treatment before he was booked into the Polk County Jail.
It was a violent end to a chase that lasted more than half an hour and began at a self-storage facility in the Hardee County community of Bowling Green, Judd said.
Two police officers there were patrolling businesses just after midnight Friday when they spotted Hilburn and Norris trying to break in, Judd said. They carried a .380 Ruger semiautomatic pistol fitted with an extended ammunition container big enough for 60 rounds, Judd said.
The officers confronted the two men and they fled north on U.S. 17 through Fort Meade to the Polk County line, reaching speeds of more than 100 mph and using evasive maneuvers. Polk deputies picked up the chase, deploying “stop sticks.” The chase continued to U.S. 60 and into Mulberry.
“These people are experienced at running,” Judd said. “Both have extensive criminal histories and they didn’t intend to go back to jail.”
In hopes of losing the deputies, Hilburn turned off his headlights and darted down Prairie Industrial Parkway into an industrial park. He didn’t know there was only one road in and out, Judd said.
Hilburn soon turned around, Judd said, and sped toward the deputies pursuing him — Lt. William “Billy” Strickland, 49; Deputy Britton “Alex” Watson, 32; and Deputy Dylan Harrison, 27.
All three deputies opened fire. They were not injured. The two suspects did not fire.
The deputies “did their best to stay out of the way of the fleeing maniacs in this car, Judd said, “and then they were placed in a position where they had no choice but to shoot. And they shot a lot, which is what I expect them to do if that’s necessary to save their lives.”
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Among the charges the men will face are burglary, fleeing law enforcement and three counts of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer.
Norris had outstanding warrants from Hillsborough County for failure to appear on three charges — grand theft of a motor vehicle, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, burglary and theft. He spent three years and nine months in state prison for burglary, grand theft of a firearm, and trafficking in stolen property.
Hilburn had outstanding Hillsborough County warrants for aggravated assault, robbery, theft, domestic violence, and failure to appear for a domestic battery charge.
The Sheriff’s Office and State Attorney’s Office will investigate the shooting and the deputies are on paid administrative leave.