PLANT CITY — The man who went on what authorities called a violent rampage Tuesday faces a murder charge after a motorist he shot died at the hospital, deputies said.
Jefferey Darnell Thomas, 27, shot the motorist as the man was driving along Colson Road, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. Thomas was then shot by a responding Plant City police officer and taken to a local hospital, where he remained Wednesday.
The man Thomas shot was flown by helicopter to Tampa General Hospital, where he later died. The Sheriff’s Office is not releasing the man’s name because of its interpretation of Marsy’s Law, a state constitutional amendment designed to protect crime victims.
The Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday that Thomas’ motive remained unclear but the investigation was continuing.
Deputies responded to the intersection of Colson and Tower Ridge Lane, about four miles south of downtown Plant City, just before 1 p.m. Tuesday. A family member of the wounded motorist called 911 to report he had been shot. Deputies determined that the motorist was wounded while driving along Colson.
Just prior to the shooting, dispatchers had received multiple calls from motorists in the area reporting that a man armed with a handgun, later identified as Thomas, was attempting to flag down drivers and shooting at cars, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
A sheriff’s helicopter tracked Darnell near the James L. Redman Parkway, according to information released Tuesday by Plant City police Sgt. Alfred Van Duyne. Thomas was seen running east and trying to hide in a building and tall grass, Van Duyne said.
A Plant City officer armed with a semiautomatic rifle and a Hillsborough sheriff’s canine deputy were approaching the shooter’s location when he fired at them, Van Duyne said. The Plant City officer fired at least one round with his rifle, striking Thomas. The officer’s name has not been released.
No one else was injured in the incident. Information previously released about a farmworker who was also found shot in a nearby strawberry field was not accurate, a sheriff’s spokeswoman said Wednesday.
Thomas faces charges of first-degree murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, shooting at or into an occupied vehicle and two counts of attempted carjacking. More charges may be added. The Sheriff’s Office did not disclose Thomas’ medical condition or say when he would be booked into the county jail.
“We don’t know what his motivation was at this time," Van Duyne said about during a Tuesday news conference broadcast by WFLA-Ch. 8. "I’m glad the officers and deputies were able to get a quick resolution to this rampage.”
Records show Thomas has previous arrests in Florida on charges of cocaine possession, synthetic cannabinoid possession, driving under the influence and domestic battery. His latest arrest was in Hillsborough County in June for failing to appear in court for the battery charge, records show. Jail records listed a Plant City home address.
Both the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office will investigate the Plant City officer’s shooting of Thomas.
Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.