Elderly man injured after threatening to drive into gas pumps then opening fire on deputies

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HUDSON, FL – A 79-year-old man was reportedly shot by Pasco County Sheriff’s deputies after allegedly opening fire on the deputies at a gas station on March 20th. While no deputies were injured, the suspect is said to be at a local ICU after being shot.

There are three things one can count on nowadays: death, taxes, and a “Florida man” getting wrapped up in bizarre, criminal circumstances. Such is the case with 79-year-old James Zambrotto.

According to Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco, the incident occurred at RaceTrac gas station in Hudson. The sheriff stated that one of his deputies had encountered Zambrotto at the gas station, and the man was allegedly “rambling” about wanting to kill people:

“He starts talking to the deputy…he starts rambling stuff about how he wants to kill somebody… He wants to drive his vehicle into the gas pumps to kill people.”

Apparently, this deputy was talking with Zambrotto for roughly 15 minutes, and even offered him a cup of coffee during the interaction. Yet, the suspect allegedly kept expressing his desire to cause harm and continued to reference driving into a gas pump to cause an explosion.

This in turn resulted in the deputy calling for some backup.

Zambrotto was said to have continued speaking with deputies for 40 more minutes, according to Sheriff Nocco, and then drove his vehicle into one of the deputies’ patrol units while blocking the gas station exit.

Not long thereafter, Zambrotto allegedly started to shoot at the deputies through his windshield. Two deputies were said to have returned fire on the suspect, non-fatally striking him. The suspect was later transported to an intensive care at an area hospital following the incident.

Authorities recently released the bodycam footage from the incident in question, in which deputies can be seen trying to plead with the suspect to show his hands while he’s seated inside of his vehicle. 

A tense exchange ensues once the suspect’s weapon is spotted, with deputies having drawn down on Zambrotto and ordering him to keep his hands visible.

As evidenced in the video, one deputy can later be seen aiming a can of OC or pepper spray at the suspect through the rear window that’s rolled down, which is when Zambrotto drives into the patrol unit parked in front of him.

After several attempts to get Zambrotto to roll his front window down once the firearm was seen being within his reach, deputies can be seen trying to breach his driver’s side window with a baton.

Things escalated quickly from there, with the suspect allegedly firing at the deputies and the deputies then returning fire.

Sheriff Nocco noted that Zambrotto has zero criminal history with the sheriff’s office and there’s no evidence to suggest that he suffers from any form of mental illness. While Sheriff Nocco is happy that none of his deputies were injured, he really wishes that matters wouldn’t have escalated as they did that day:

“It’s a tragedy, we wish to God nobody was harmed today, but because of his actions we had to take action, that action may have prevented him from harming someone else.

“Thank God the deputies are OK. But I go back to this: I wish to God nobody was harmed today, I wish to God the situation could have deescalated.”

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In other reports regarding officer-involved shootings, officials are investigating the fatal shooting of a suspect who was reportedly armed with a knife while lunging at a Rochester Police officer. 

Here’s that previous report from earlier in March. 

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ROCHESTER, NY – An officer-involved shooting that proved fatal for a suspect reportedly armed with a knife is currently being investigated by officials. 

While the victim has not yet been publicly identified, bodycam footage from the incident has been released regarding the March 10th incident. 

According to reports, an officer from the Rochester Police Department has been placed on administrative leave following the fatal shooting of a reportedly armed suspect during the early morning hours of March 10th. 

The incident was said to have started after officers were dispatched to the Open Door Mission homeless shelter after reports came in regarding a man who’d taken some knives out of the kitchen and had run outside of the shelter. 

Staff members from the shelter were reportedly unfamiliar with the man alleged to have stolen the knives from the kitchen.

Bodycam footage from the incident shows when officers had arrived and were instructing the suspect to drop the knife.

Rochester Interim Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan said that during this interaction between responding officers and the suspect, the armed individual allegedly threatened to, “kill the officers or the officers would have to kill him.”

As seen on the bodycam footage released, officers continue to try talking the suspect down.

While this is ongoing, the suspect continues to walk toward officers as police are retreating backwards while issuing orders for the suspect to drop the weapon. 

Chief Herriott-Sullivan said officers wound up retreating backwards about 400 feet, before the suspect tries to close the gap on one of the officers on scene. 

The officer that the suspect was closing in on while armed stated the following to the suspects before the fatal shooting: 

“Boss, I need you to drop the knife right. C’mon man, we ain’t gotta go down this road.”

“Boss, you need to stop. Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t. Back up right now.”

At this point in the video, the suspect appears to quicken his pace toward the officer, before what sounds like five shots being fired by the unidentified officer.

Based upon the multiple perspectives showcased in the released footage from the incident, the suspect appeared to be mere feet away from the officer before the shots were fired. 

As of this writing, Chief Herriott-Sullivan is not making any sort of conclusive statements as to whether the officer-involved shooting was justified or not. 

With the current climate revolving around officer-involved shootings, Chief Herriott-Sullivan was asked whether, in this scenario, it would have been appropriate to involve the Person in Crisis team alongside officers.

In response to that notion, Chief Herriott-Sullivan stated that this situation was simply “too fluid” and “dangerous” to have involved something akin to the PIC team: 

“When you have an incident like this where it’s a person with a weapon, for their own safety, they’re not sent to those calls. From what I’ve seen, it was too fluid, too dangerous, and we would’ve kept them back anyway.”

Mayor Lovely Warren, who admits that the situation is “heartbreaking” due to there being a loss of life involved, also concurred with the police chief’s sentiments on whether a crisis intervention team could’ve influenced a different outcome.

The New York State Attorney General’s office and District Attorney Sandra Doorley’s office are actively reviewing the case. There’s currently no indication as of this writing that responding officers acted inappropriately during the incident. 

This matter is the subject of an active investigation.

Please follow Law Enforcement Today as we continue to gather updates on this developing story. 

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