1. Florida Politics

Armed employee fatally shoots car thief in Sun City Center rampage, deputies say

An armed man who tried to steal several vehicles on Tuesday was shot and killed in a confrontation with an armed bystander outside a Publix supermarket in Sun City Center, deputies said. [DAN SULLIVAN | Times]
Published Jun. 5

SUN CITY CENTER — A woman screamed, onlookers gave chase and frightened business owners locked their doors Tuesday as an armed man rampaged through a busy shopping center parking lot, trying to steal several vehicles.

The chaos ended when a bystander shot and killed the man in self-defense, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

Deputies did not release the name of the alleged car thief, or the man who shot him. But Mike Wheeler, the owner of Audibel Hearing Center, said the armed bystander was one of his employees, a 25-year-old hearing aid specialist.

"From what I understand, there was a gun in his face," Wheeler said. "He does have a weapon in his car. He chose to be the shooter and not the shootee.

"It goes without saying it's the worst day of his life ... He's just devastated."

Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister said the armed bystander is considered a crime victim in this case. The man who was fatally shot is from Pinellas County and has numerous felony arrests in his past, Chronister said.

The incident happened just after 9 a.m. outside of a Publix at 4854 Sun City Center Boulevard. Deputies did not say whether the cars targeted were occupied when the thief tried to steal them.

The Sheriff's Office released few details about the incident. Detectives interviewed witnesses who said they saw a man attempt to break into at least four vehicles. When he found a vehicle locked, he moved on to the next.

Debra Smith, 63, of Sun City Center, said she was cutting through the Publix parking lot on her morning walk when she heard a woman screaming. Smith turned around and said she saw a group of four or five men chasing the armed car thief.

The man dashed toward the south side of a row of businesses, which runs north to south, perpendicular to the Publix storefront. He tried to open the doors of several stores.

But the employees of those businesses — a jewelry store, nail salon, and the hearing aid store, among them — saw the man approaching and quickly locked their doors, the sheriff said.

"One employee saw him approaching with a handgun and couldn't secure the door in time but held the door handle so he couldn't get in," Chronister said.

The alleged car thief ran behind the building.

Wheeler, who was not there at the time of the incident, said his employees learned about what was going on outside. The armed employee told another employee at the hearing aid shop to call 911, Wheeler said, then walked out to check on his own car. Within seconds, the alleged car thief confronted him.

From the front parking lot, Smith saw a silver SUV drive behind the building from the north, appearing to trap the man there. Shortly thereafter, she heard several gunshots.

When deputies arrived they found the wounded man behind a building housing several businesses adjacent to the Publix.

He had been shot in the upper body. He was taken to South Bay Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

"What his motive was, we're not sure at this point," Chronister said.

Wheeler said the 25-year-old employee who shot the alleged car thief is a good worker and dependable supervisor who played college baseball.

"He doesn't have a malicious bone in his body," Wheeler said. "He's a real good guy. ... For this to happen, he had to be in fear for his life."

Contact Anastasia Dawson at or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites. Contact Dan Sullivan at or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.


  1. Tonight's LGBTQ Presidential Forum is hosted by Angelica Ross of FX's Pose. Twitter
    A live stream of the event and what to watch for as 10 candidates meet on stage in Iowa.
  2. In this April 11, 2018, file photo, a high school student uses a vaping device near a school campus in Cambridge, Mass.  [AP Photo | Steven Senne] STEVEN SENNE  |  AP
    "The department does not appear to have the authority to do anything.”
  3. Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos listens to a speaker share an opinion about a city matter during a city council meeting at Clearwater City Hall in Clearwater, Fla. on Thursday, April 20, 2017.  On Thursday, the Clearwater City Council rejected the mayor's resolution urging lawmakers to ban assault weapons.  [Times files] TIMES FILES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    However, the city did pass a resolution calling for more modest gun control measures.
  4. Maurice A. Ferré at his Miami home earlier this year. JOSE A. IGLESIAS  |  Miami Herald
    He served as mayor for 12 years and set the stage for Miami to become an international city.
  5. Rep. Susan Valdes, D-Tampa, during a Feb. 7, 2019, meeting of the House PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee. [The Florida Channel]
    ‘One test should not determine the rest of your life,’ Rep. Susan Valdes says.
  6. Vice President Joe Biden, right, talks to supporters as former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, left, stands near during a campaign stop at at Century Village in Boca Raton, Fla., Monday, Oct. 13, 2014. Crist is locked in a tight race against Gov. Rick Scott in one of the most negative gubernatorial campaigns in Florida history. The two disagree on most major issues, including health care, the minimum wage, Cuba policy, gay marriage and medical marijuana. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz) ORG XMIT: FLAD102 ALAN DIAZ  |  AP
    The Florida Republican-turned-Democrat said Biden’s ‘record of getting things done speaks for itself.’
  7. FILE - In this June 20, 2018 photo, immigrant children walk in a line outside the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children a former Job Corps site that now houses them in Homestead, Fla.  Migrant children who were separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border last year suffered post-traumatic stress and other serious mental health problems, according to a government watchdog report obtained by The Associated Press Wednesday. The chaotic reunification process only added to their trauma. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File) BRYNN ANDERSON  |  AP
    Since Homestead’s closing on Aug. 3, at least $33,120,000 has been paid to Caliburn, the company contracted by the government to run Homestead.
  8. The economies of Canada and Florida go together like, well, palm fronds and maple leaves, as seen outside the Sweetwater RV Resort in Zephyrhills. (Times file photo) KATE CALDWELL  |  Tampa Bay Times
    To qualify under the proposed Canadian Snowbirds Act, visitors would have to be older than 50 and would have to own or rent a home here.
  9. The Florida House Education Committee focuses on early education in its first meeting of the 2020 session. The Florida Channel
    School security and early learning get top billing in the first committee meetings of the looming 2020 session.
  10. Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran speaks to an unidentified man outside of Tampa Bay Academy Monday, April 15, 2019 in Tampa. CHRIS URSO  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Richard Corcoran has convinced the State Board of Education to sign off on a new funding formula for the 28-college system, which, with more than 320,000 students, is widely viewed as one of the...