THONOTOSASSA — Minutes after midnight on a darkened rural street, three Hillsborough sheriff's deputies walked the pavement. They saw a man standing in front of a set of duplexes. When the deputies walked toward him, gunfire erupted.
One of the three, Deputy Scott Ranney, fell as a bullet pierced his leg. The deputies all fired back as the man ran between houses and disappeared.
The shooting early Thursday touched off a manhunt that lasted through the day but netted no arrests. Ranney, who has been with the Sheriff's Office for six years, was treated at a hospital and sent home. The man who shot him remained at large.
"This easily could have been a tragic outcome," said Hillsborough sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon.
It began with a 911 call. Someone reported gunshots being fired about 12:30 a.m. in the area of 9411 Greystone Road.
Ranney and the other two deputies arrived in the neighborhood, a collection of modest single-story homes and apartment buildings that sits off Williams Road, south of U.S. 301 and east of Interstate 75. They walked the street together, looking for the person who fired the shots. The Sheriff's Office gave this account of what happened next:
They saw a man in front of a duplex. When they walked toward him, the man turned around, firing from a handgun. They fired back.
The man ran. Sheriff's officials could not say whether he had been shot.
Ranney, 43, was taken to Tampa General Hospital. The bullet, which hit his left thigh, did not cause nerve or bone damage, entering and exiting through Ranney's skin, officials said. He returned home later Thursday morning.
He has been with the agency since 2009. Ranney started his career there as a deputy in the Hillsborough County jail. In December, he moved to road patrol in the sheriff's District 1, which covers the north-central portion of the county.
Deputies blocked streets throughout the neighborhood where the shooting happened as they began an intense search. Dogs sniffed the ground. A sheriff's helicopter loomed over houses. Authorities set up a command center about a mile away in a grocery store parking lot.
By sunrise, the search tapered off. About 35 deputies remained on Greystone Road, scanning the ground between layers of yellow crime scene tape.
Detectives still had not identified the gunman late Thursday. His reason for shooting at the deputies also remained unknown. In the late afternoon, detectives were interviewing multiple people, officials said, but their connection to the shooting was unclear.
Darell Dick, who said he has lived in the neighborhood for 17 years, was about to go to bed for the night when he heard a burst of shots down the street. Dick, 62, said he didn't go to bed for hours because of the commotion from dozens of deputies circling the area, search helicopters buzzing overhead.
Melissa Barton, 44, who lives a few houses away from where the shooting happened, awoke to a busy scene Thursday morning.
"(The neighborhood) used to be so quiet," she said.
Not so much anymore. The past couple of weeks have been punctuated by gunfire, Barton said. She has seen deputies canvassing the streets.
Dispatch records show the area has seen a handful of burglary calls in recent weeks. But those records did not appear to show any shootings or other violent crimes.
Rudolph Burney, 44, who spent the night at a friend's house in the neighborhood, said his car was hit by at least one bullet. He stood down the street from the crime scene, holding his construction helmet in his right hand, as he spoke with reporters.
He asked the detectives: When could he go to work?
"They were like, 'No, this car's not going anywhere,' " he said. "'It's got a bullet hole in it.'"
Contact Dan Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.