MARION COUNTY, Fla. – A man accused of shooting at a natural gas pipeline in Marion County was shot and killed Sunday by law enforcement officers, officials said.
Authorities from several agencies spent part of their Sunday searching for the man, who fled Marion County after shooting at the Sabal Pipeline, according to officials.
The sequence of events started when the Marion County Sheriff's Office said officials received a call around 9 a.m. about a man, identified Monday afternoon as 66-year-old James Leroy Marker, shooting a "high-powered rifle" at the pipeline and other equipment. At least 20 bullet holes were spotted along the pipeline and the engine compartments of two construction vehicles.
Marion County deputies rushed to the pipeline on Highway 200 in Dunnellon in a Bearcat vehicle, but the Marker had already left, the Sheriff's Office said.
The Citrus County Sheriff's Office then took over the investigation.
About 9:35 a.m., the Florida Highway Patrol was called to help Citrus County deputies, who were chasing the Marion County shooting suspect on U.S. Highway 41, south of Floral Park Drive, according to a statement from the FHP.
An FHP trooper saw the suspect’s 2016 Chevrolet pickup truck heading south on Highway 41 and used a maneuver to get both vehicles to stop along the east shoulder of the road.
That’s when Marker engaged with the Citrus County deputies and the trooper, who fired at the man, killing him, the FHP said. The suspect died before he could be taken to a hospital.
Neither the deputies nor the trooper were hurt.
They were identified Monday afternoon as detective Jason Strickland, deputy Gabriel Gerena, deputy Jericho McIntyre and Trooper Nicolas Dolan.The officers involved in the shooting have been placed on paid administrative leave while the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigates.
“We’re again very thankful that no one else was injured during this extremely dangerous incident,” Citrus County Sheriff Mike Prendergast said. “We’re giving FDLE time to complete a thorough investigation to determine exactly what happened. However, from what I’ve seen, all parties involved acted with extreme professionalism when faced with an imminent threat. All of the agencies involved worked extremely well together during a time of great stress. Our community should be proud of the actions of those who stopped an unprecedented threat.”
Chevy Mathews told News 6 that when he heard the gunfire Sunday morning, he took a drive down Highway 200 to see what was going on.
Mathews said he quickly saw a white pickup truck parked in the ditch and a man shooting a high-powered rifle across the lanes of traffic.
"Then I started hearing like, missiles almost going over our lake in there," Mathews said. "The guy was sitting with his rifle right on the roof, pointed at the construction equipment and he was in all black. It looked like he looked like special ops."
Mathews said he stayed on the phone with 911 dispatchers to describe what he saw. He said the man didn't appear to be aiming at any vehicles or bystanders. Instead, he said, it appeared he was only targeting the pipeline.
"I was only thinking about securing (people), and the man who is in a wheelchair who lives over there,” Mathews said. “Pretty much, (I was) just worried about securing them because a .50-caliber can penetrate a concrete block wall.”
Last Wednesday, two protesters climbed into another part of the Sabal Pipeline.
Mathews said that he hopes any future opposition of the pipeline construction stays peaceful.
"The lady that crawled up the pipe, she got arrested,” Mathews said. “She went to jail. She got her punishment, but this takes it to a whole another level."
Sabal Trail Transmission LLC told News 6 that no construction workers were near the pipeline during the shooting and are working with law enforcement to assess the damage.
According to their website, the Sabal Trail Pipeline will stretch nearly 300 miles in Florida, with 21 miles stretching in both Marion and Citrus Counties.
Duke Energy bought a small stake in the pipeline, and plans to build a new facility in Marion to connect to the natural gas pipeline.
After it is construction, Sabal Trail Transmission said it will create about 300 permanent jobs in Florida.
The Marion County Sheriff's Office announced on Monday that the department will increase the amount of patrols near the pipeline construction areas. A spokesperson for the sheriff's office said it respects freedom of speech for protestors, but says it will uphold the law and protect the public.
FDLE is leading the investigation and declined News 6's request for dash cam video of the incident.