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Deputies kill armed man after rampage at auto dealership

Published May 16, 2014

NEW PORT RICHEY — Buying a car began the series of events that would lead to Patrick Tillery's death.

Tillery, 43, was unhappy with the purchase he made about a month ago at Rock Bottom Auto Sales, at 11643 State Road 52 in Hudson, said Pasco sheriff's Sgt. Justin Ross. Ross did not go into detail about the deal or the car.

Detectives say Tillery threatened the business owner and vowed to damage the dealership.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, detectives say, he followed through. He went to the dealership, smashed a surveillance camera and a Corvette's windshield with a brick, and set a Nissan Frontier on fire behind the building.

Ten minutes later, cameras at the dealership's other location, on U.S. 19, picked up a man with a red gas can dousing a Toyota 4Runner. Video shows the man move out of the frame before the SUV erupts in flames. The fire also torched the side of the building.

Detectives say they identified Tillery from the surveillance recordings. After several hours, they tracked Tillery to his home at 7806 Yucca Drive in New Port Richey. His wife, Jessica, answered the door. Several children were inside.

First she said Tillery wasn't there. Deputies asked to come in. When she went to put her dog in a back bedroom, deputies heard a man's voice, Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco said.

Jessica Tillery let them in and led them down a hallway, what deputies call a "fatal funnel": one way in, no way out, with something dangerous at the end.

Patrick Tillery was waiting at the end of the hallway with a gun. He fired two or three shots that missed before officers returned fire, Nocco said. Tillery died. No deputies were injured. Neither were Tillery's wife or children.

"She walked our people into an ambush," Nocco said of Tillery's wife, "but our people gave him what he deserved, and she's going to get what she deserves."

Nocco would not say if that meant charges against Jessica Tillery could be expected, citing the open investigation.

Patrick Tillery had an extensive criminal history in Pinellas County, records show.

In 13 arrests, he was charged with fleeing to elude, burglary, vehicle theft, resisting an officer and burglary with assault.

Relatives could not be reached by phone Thursday.

Mario Vavoulis, who owns Rock Bottom Auto Sales, declined to talk about the nature of the sale or the model of car Tillery bought. He said he got a call Wednesday evening from someone saying fires had been started at his business.

A gash in the fascia in the back of the dealership was left Thursday morning where Vavoulis said Tillery tried to snuff a security camera with a brick. Immediately below, cracks spread across the windshield of a Corvette. A few feet away, a Nissan Frontier had been gutted by fire.

"He knew the way it was going to go down," Vavoulis said of the night culminating in the shootout. "And he didn't care."

A few doors down Yucca Drive, Linda Hornbeck said she awoke Wednesday night to what she thought were firecrackers. She later looked out her window to find the street crawling with crime scene tape and squad cars.

She said she didn't know the family well — they moved in about four months ago. Hornbeck said she knew that a mother and four children lived there and saw them walking to the bus stop some mornings, but she rarely saw Tillery.

Hornbeck said they were quiet. She doesn't recall any outbursts from the home until this.

"You just never know," she said.