A 61-year-old man was shot and killed after he pointed a gun and possibly fired at two Lakeland police officers who approached his vehicle parked in a construction zone on Interstate 4 early this morning, police said.
The incident took place near the Kathleen Road exit around 2:15 a.m. The identity of the deceased man has not been released.
I-4 was closed to traffic near the intersection for several hours this morning, but has reopened.
Police had been called to the scene to investigate a suspicious vehicle parked along the highway. Two officers responded: Tammy Hathcock, who has been with LPD for 15 years, and Garrett Ziegler, who has been in law enforcement for nine years, the last five months of which have been with LPD. Both were uninjured in the incident.
The officers saw a man in the vehicle and tapped the window to speak to him, according to an LPD news release.
“At some point, the man retrieved a handgun and pointed it toward one of the officers. In fear for their safety, officers returned fire, shooting the driver,” who was the only person in the vehicle, according to the news release.
He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Police Chief Ruben Garcia answered reporters’ questions about the incident around 8:40 a.m.:
“Preliminarily, at this point, we believe the subject did fire,” Chief Garcia told reporters this morning. “Our officers returned fire, neutralizing the suspect.”
The officers were uninjured. “Their professional tactical training, (they) were able to maneuver away from the threat and return fire,” Garcia said.
Multiple shots were fired, and the investigation will determine how many, Garcia said.
Under standard protocol, the officers will be on paid administrative leave during the initial phase of four investigations into the incident. The independent investigations are conducted by:
- The LPD Violent Crimes Unit, which is conducting a death investigation.
- The LPD Office of Professional Standards, which is conducting an administrative review.
- The State Attorney’s Office for the 10th Judicial Circuit, which responded to the scene.
- The Medical Examiner’s Office for the 10th Judicial Circuit.
Police have not said what kind of vehicle the man was found in. Video from 10 Tampa Bay showed the vehicle as a silver sedan.
Garcia said the call reporting a suspicious vehicle came from a state agency that monitors camera feeds from interstate highway bridges.
Investigators do not know why the man parked his car in the construction zone, Garcia said. The area is surrounded by concrete barriers and a driver would have to have intent to enter it so the vehicle wasn’t there as the result of an accident, he said.
Several people commenting on an LPD Facebook post about the incident said they have seen the same car parked in the construction zone nightly for several weeks.
Hathcock started at LPD as a 911 dispatcher and rose through the ranks, becoming a homicide detective. She transferred to uniform patrol earlier this year, a lateral transfer, according to police spokeswoman Robin Tillett.
Zeigler, a Marine veteran who was wounded overseas, spent eight years with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, where he served in patrol, the crime suppression team, SWAT and K-9 unit.