Florida deputies shoot 79-year-old man at gas station after threats

Florida deputies shot and wounded a 79-year-old man at a gas station Saturday after they said he made threats about killing others, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.
Florida deputies shot and wounded a 79-year-old man at a gas station Saturday after they said he made threats about killing others, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office. (Pasco County Sheriff's Office)

Florida deputies shot and wounded a 79-year-old man at a gas station Saturday after they said he made threats about killing others, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.

Authorities said a deputy was pumping gas when James Zambrotto approached him and began rambling, saying he wanted to drive his car into the gas pumps to cause an explosion. The deputy talked to the man, offering to get a cup of coffee together in an effort to deescalate the situation while he called for backup, Sheriff Chris Nocco said at a press conference.

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The sheriff’s office released an edited 26½-minute video of the encounter, captured from several deputies’ cameras. It shows Zambrotto in his car, refusing to get out. He told deputies he was a military veteran from Port Richey who had family nearby.

Update: Deputy-Involved Shooting, Hudson **Warning: explicit language and graphic content in video.** FDLE has allowed us to release this footage, as a reminder they are the lead investigative agency in this case. This is body worn camera footage from five deputies involved in this morning’s deputy-involved shooting at the RaceTrac at US 19 and Little Rd. in Hudson. This footage shows the beginning of the incident, when a deputy was approached by the suspect at the gas pumps. It continues to show deputies speaking with the suspect to de-escalate the situation, in which the suspect stated he would hurt himself and others, while setting up stop sticks to prevent the vehicle’s continued travel. Additionally, it shows the suspect being pepper-sprayed while deputies attempt to get the suspect to put down the firearm he was holding. It also shows the suspect ramming into a patrol car, as well as the moment the suspect fired at deputies and deputies returned fire. No deputies were injured as a result of this shooting and the suspect remains in a local hospital. Multiple deputies on scene were trained in crisis intervention and a member on scene is part of the hostage negotiation team. As Sheriff Nocco stated this morning, we are proud of the efforts our members took to de-escalate this situation and the professionalism they demonstrated.

Posted by Pasco Sheriff's Office on Saturday, March 20, 2021

Zambrotto, who was hospitalized in intensive care, does not have any documented mental illnesses or criminal interaction with Pasco deputies, the sheriff’s office said.

At one point, he said he thought people were listening to him and made vague statements about hurting others.

“You guys (police) keep doing the same thing,” Zambrotto told the deputy. “You’re saying I’m a nut, I’m going to try to hurt somebody. I’m not trying to hurt nobody.”

The Tampa Bay Times reported the sheriff’s office brought in a hostage negotiator who spoke with the elderly man for about 40 minutes. As they talked, deputies placed tire-deflation spikes around his car and parked a sheriff’s vehicle in front of him so he could not drive away.

The video show the deputy repeatedly questioning Zambrotto who appears overwhelmed and confused at times.

“Sir, you’re trying to make me say a whole bunch of things,” the man said at one point.

Deputies surrounded the car as they tried to talk the man down, trying to break the front two windows of the car. The sheriff said a deputy saw Zambrotto reach for a gun. Two deputies fired their weapons.

“Please do not do this to me. I do not want to live with this,” the deputy said, pleading for the man to put his hands on the steering wheel.

A second deputy pepper sprayed Zambrotto through the car’s open left rear window. Then the man accelerated forward, ramming the sheriff’s vehicle parked in front of him.

Nocco said the incident showed how quickly a situation can turn violent. A deputy stopping for gas turns “into an incident where somebody gets shot.”