LARGO — Many things had to go wrong for the bizarre chain of events to break out Sunday night on a stretch of Walsingham Road.
First, a car crash that may or may not have happened. Then, a good Samaritan who perhaps got a little too involved. And finally, a box cutter-versus-gun faceoff that landed one man in the hospital and another in police custody.
Throw in a new victim's rights law that is already confusing but definitely doesn't have guidance for when there's not a clear victim, and Largo police have got a true weird Florida case on their hands.
"In my experience, that is extremely unusual to have something devolve that quickly into something so serious," police spokesman Lt. Randall Chaney said during a news conference Monday.
The incident started about 8 p.m., when Largo officers responded to reports of a possible hit and run crash in the 11000 block of Walsingham Road, police said. Two drivers saw a man down in the road and, assuming he had been hit, pulled over to help. No witnesses saw a crash happen, and authorities have gone back and forth on whether the man has injuries consistent with being hit by a car.
Still, the witnesses tried to help him and urged him to stay put until medical attention arrived, police said. Instead, the man, who used a walker to tote around his possessions, took his stuff and walked away. The witnesses followed him, even as the man "made it very clear" he wanted to leave, police said in a news release.
The man grew angry and pulled out a box cutter. He walked up to one of the witnesses "in a threatening manner," police said. They were standing close enough to where the witness told police he could hear the "click click click" of the box cutter, spokesman Chaney said. The witness pulled a handgun and shot the man once in the leg. The witness then went to help the man and applied a tourniquet as paramedics arrived.
They took the man to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, where he underwent surgery. He was in the intensive care unit as of Monday afternoon, Chaney said.
Detectives interviewed the shooter then released him. Chaney did not say what kind of gun the man used or if he was licensed to carry it. They have not been able to interview the other man yet because of his medical condition. Witnesses told police they saw a white Jeep or silver SUV that may have been involved in the possible crash.
Detectives must gather more information before deciding whether to arrest anyone involved, Chaney said. They also declined to name either man, citing Marsy's Law, an amendment to the Florida Constitution passed by voters in November that extends broad protections to crime victims.
"Right now, we're not sure who might be a victim and who might be a suspect," Chaney said.
The spokesman added that he wouldn't recommend following someone who has made it clear they want to leave.
"I don't think there's anything wrong with him initially going up to him and asking,'Hey are you okay? Are you all right?' and trying to do an assessment," Chaney said. "We probably would not urge people to follow and badger a person under these circumstances ... By continuing to follow him, it may have exacerbated the situation."
Chaney asked that anyone with information contact the police department at (727) 587-6730.
Contact Kathryn Varn at [email protected] or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.