LAKELAND — One carjacking suspect is dead, three were arrested and two more were being sought by investigators Sunday after a pair of related thefts involving guns, law enforcement officials said.
Brian Demarcus West, 24, of 172 Julie Lane, Auburndale, died Sunday morning after he was struck by a vehicle driven by Lakeland Police Officer Greg Hardee, a 20-year veteran, the police department said.
West was driving a stolen 2005 Suzuki Aerio that was taken from Barnett Park on South Lake Avenue around 3:05 a.m. Sunday, the police department said.
Polk County Sheriff's records show that West had been arrested several times since 2010 on charges related to theft, fraud and drugs.
A man and woman in the Suzuki said four young men ordered them out of the vehicle at gunpoint, records said. The man was struck several times with a semi-automatic handgun and the woman was kicked, records said.
The suspects stole a wallet, purse and cell phones, and fired at the victims as they drove off, records said.
Around 6 a.m., a 56-year-old woman was confronted by several young men in a parking lot near Wabash Avenue and Parker Street after she pulled over because she spilled a drink in her 2002 Ford Escape, a Polk County Sheriff's Office report said.
During the encounter, the woman was hit by a pistol and forced to the ground, the report said.
She suffered minor injuries, but was able to walk to her home to report the crime, records said. The Florida Highway Patrol attempted to stop the stolen Escape on the Polk Parkway, but its driver fled, records said.
At 7:09 a.m., Lakeland Police Department dispatcher Addie Gaskins was heading home after work when she spotted both the stolen Suzuki Aerio and Ford Escape traveling north on Memorial Boulevard, records said.
Both vehicles briefly pulled into a Racetrac gas station, where Gaskins “observed that the tags had been switched on the vehicles,” the Lakeland Police Department said.
The vehicles fled when police arrived, records said. Lakeland Police pursued the Suzuki driven by West and called the sheriff's office for assistance, records said.
The Suzuki intentionally rammed the back of a 2008 Ford Focus near Third Street and North Florida Avenue, records said.
The Ford Focus, driven by Robert Smith, 77, of Lakeland, spun out of control, hit a tree and rolled back into traffic, records said.
“It was a helluva surprise,” Hardee said Sunday afternoon. “It was better than going to Disney Land. I was going about 35 mph, and they hit me from behind at a high rate of speed. They must have really been hustling, because I didn't even see them.”
An Ohio native who has lived in Lakeland less than a year, Smith said he was treated and released from a local hospital.
Lakeland Police Officer John Mort avoided hitting Smith's car with his squad car and struck the rear of the stolen Suzuki, causing it to spin into the path of Hardee's police vehicle, records said.
With the Suzuki still moving, West jumped from the vehicle, Lakeland police said.
Both West and the Suzuki were struck by Hardee's vehicle, although the officer tried to avoid a collision, Lakeland police said.
West was taken to Lakeland Regional Medical Center, where he died, records said.
The other suspects in the Suzuki — a 13-year-old boy and 17-year-old boy, a documented gang member — were treated for minor injuries at the hospital, records said.
The 56-year-old woman's Ford Escape was found abandoned a short time later on Old Dixie Highway, just west of the Polk Parkway, records said.
A Polk Sheriff's helicopter located three of five suspects in the Escape in a nearby field. Two 18-year-old men and a 16-year-old boy were arrested and charges are pending, while two other suspects are still sought by law enforcement, records said.