Chase ends with car in river, driver fatally shot

10:09 AM, Sep 7, 2011   |    comments
Police shoot a man dead while he stabs a woman inside a car that had just crashed into the Indian River off of the Pineda Causeway.
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PALM SHORES, Florida (FL Today) - A fleeing suspect who crashed into a river and started stabbing his passenger was fatally shot by a deputy chasing him Tuesday, according to the authorities.

About 4:45 p.m. Tuesday, deputies responded to 911 callers who reported that a man had forced a woman into his Nissan coupe and left a beach access area on Patrick Air Force Base. A deputy began following the car near State Road A1A, but it sped up and fled westbound on Pineda Causeway, according to the Brevard County Sheriff's Office.

After the car crossed the final span over the Indian River Lagoon, its driver lost control near the exit sign for northbound U.S. 1, veered right and skidded into the water.

More than a half-dozen witnesses -- including Air Force members, an off-duty Palm Bay police officer and other motorists, including Christine O'Shea of Cocoa Beach -- stopped and watched as the deputy waded into about 4 feet of brackish water and pounded on the driver's window.

"You could see the (driver) going like this," said O'Shea, who waved her arm in a stabbing motion. "I thought he was trying to get his seat belt off. But he's stabbing the girl next to him, trying to kill her. So the sheriff starts shooting him."

Deputies smashed the passenger window, pulled the woman from the car and brought her to shore. O'Shea's husband and one of the airmen administered first aid on the woman, who was speaking and breathing well, they said.

Suffering stab wounds to her stomach and her right side, she was taken to Holmes Regional Medical Center in serious condition. Her injuries were not considered to be life-threatening.

The deputy kept his handgun drawn as another arrived and checked on the man, who they determined was dead.

For hours, his body lay inside the two-door Nissan, which was partially submerged about 20 yards offshore. The vehicle's pop-up headlights, still illuminated, bobbed above the water's surface.

Sheriff's Lt. Tod Goodyear said the woman may have been grabbing at the wheel during the pursuit. He couldn't say how fast the car was traveling when it wrecked about 100 yards east of U.S. 1.

O'Shea's husband, Gerry, a former paramedic, was driving westward on the causeway. He watched the deputy's cruiser, its blue lights activated, follow the suspect's car for about 4 miles until it careened over a concrete embankment and "splashed down."

"I just wanted to help, but I knew something's not right," Gerry O'Shea said. "When he started firing into the window, that was a dead giveaway."

Witnesses estimated that "four or five" shots were fired through the driver's window, but Goodyear could not confirm that. Homicide agents also could not release the names of the two involved and had not determined their relationship.

Crime-scene investigators snapped photographs from a motorboat and a helicopter, which landed on the causeway and tied up traffic. The car was pulled from the river about three hours after the shooting, at about sunset.

Having a crime scene in the water "does give us some problems," Goodyear said. "But we have dive teams and metal detectors. We'll probably come out (in the daylight) and look for shell casings."

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement will investigate whether the shooting was justified, but Goodyear said, "I think for sure the man would have killed her."

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