Wesley Chapel driver grazed by stray bullet

Published Dec. 13, 2013

WESLEY CHAPEL — He drove on State Road 54, his 13-year-old granddaughter in the passenger seat, his window open maybe 4 inches. Then something ricocheted off his forehead.

It made a loud thud that echoed in his skull.

Was it something kicked up from the road? Walter Santiago, 62, wondered.

No. That sounded like gunfire, he told himself.

"Grandpa, you've been shot!" he later recalled his granddaughter shouting from beside him.

After picking the girl up from school because she felt ill, Santiago was struck by a stray bullet. The area near State Road 54 and Bruce Lane is full of fields and country, and police believe it was unintentional. The bullet had probably traveled some distance, so it's unlikely that what Santiago heard was gunfire. More likely, it was the reverberation of metal hitting his skull.

The bullet bounced off Santiago's head. It cracked the front window of his Plymouth Voyager van and came to rest at his granddaughter's toes.

He drove for about 60 feet before taking the situation in. He felt the blood streaming down from just below his hairline. He pulled over and his granddaughter, whose father is a retired sheriff's deputy, was already on the phone with 911.

Santiago called his son and told him, "Grab your mother; I've been shot."

The paramedics had arrived and were treating Santiago by the time his son arrived. Soon everyone learned the bullet had not penetrated bone. The paramedics took him to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, where a CT scan confirmed the wound to be superficial. He was released hours later with a bump and six stitches.

The Pasco Sheriff's Office was investigating. Spokesman Doug Tobin said a person being struck by a stray bullet is rare.

Santiago said he's lucky. Had he been going any faster, left home that day one second sooner, the bullet might have struck his temple and caused a more serious injury. Then again, he said with a pause, "If I would have been going slower, it wouldn't have hit me at all."

Weston Phippen can be reached at (727) 893-8321 or