WINTER HAVEN, Fla. – A 20-year-old man was killed and four others were hospitalized in critical condition from an exchange of gunfire between two cars in unincorporated Winter Haven early Sunday morning, according to Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.
The deceased man and three of the injured — a 26-year-old man, a 20-year-old man and a 17-year-old boy — had left a bowling alley in the same car around 1:13 a.m., Judd said.
As the group drove north on Buckeye Loop Road toward Martin Luther King Blvd on the outskirts of Winter Haven, a dark sedan that followed them pulled up beside the car and the two vehicles engaged in a “running gun battle,” Judd said at a news conference Sunday.
“If you look very close, you’ll see some of these bullets are entrance holes into this vehicle, some are exit holes from the vehicle, so the suspects were shooting back and forth at each other,” Judd said.
The shootout was witnessed from a distance by friends of an individual in the first car, who Judd said reported seeing the vehicle ease over to the side of the road before it came to rest.
“And what we find (in the car) is not good. What we found was a 20-year-old young man, still a kid, dead,” Judd said. “He was shot eight times. Did you hear what I said? He was shot eight times.”
Judd said that among the other occupants, the 26-year-old was shot eight times, the 17-year-old was shot twice and the other 20-year-old man was shot between seven and eight times. The man who was shot and killed was the front-seat passenger of the car with an “AR strapped around him” and “a gun in his waist,” Judd said.
Though the shooting occurred in unincorporated Winter Haven, Judd said that the Winter Haven Police Department offered a “remarkable amount” of assistance to Polk County deputies at the scene.
The dark-colored car continued to drive west on Martin Luther King Blvd before it dropped off a 21-year-old man at Winter Haven Hospital who had also been shot and is now in critical condition there, Judd said.
Judd said there were so many bullet holes and shell casings to count that deputies were initially unable to report exactly how many shots were fired between both cars.
“We’re still counting bullet holes,” Judd said.
It was too early to tell if the shooting was gang-related, Judd said, and he asked that those with knowledge of the shooting call the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-226 TIPS (8477).
“None of this should happen. Young men aren’t supposed to die and get shot up by other young men. And we’re absolutely unequivocally going to investigate this and hold the people that are responsible for this shooting accountable. That’s a guarantee, but we need the community’s help,” Judd said.