LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) — The man shot by Polk County deputies on I-4 near Dinosaur World on Sunday allegedly tried to set fire to multiple homes and businesses in Lakeland and Tampa.
In a news conference Sunday evening, Sheriff Grady Judd said deputies responded to a report of a man – later identified as Luke Neely, 30, of Lakeland – throwing “Molotov cocktail-type incendiary weapons” onto the roof of a north Lakeland home at 8:12 a.m.
Judd said the suspected arsonist climbed into a Chevrolet truck and drove off. During the chase, deputies tried to execute two PIT maneuvers to stop the truck. Judd said a deputy fractured his wrist while attempting the PIT, but Neely did not stop, and began heading west on I-4.
Neely reportedly began to slow down in the area of Branch Forbes Road in Hillsborough County and deputies blocked in the truck to prevent him from driving away.
Judd said Neely exited the truck with an AR-15-style rifle in his hand and began running towards the Dinosaur World t-rex statue. Deputies fired, hitting Neely once in the left leg, twice in the right leg, and once in the groin.
“And we have changed the looks of his groin forever,” Judd said. “If you know what I mean.”
The sheriff’s office said Neely also allegedly had a handgun on his person. He was taken to the hospital and is expected to survive.
Neely was also identified as a suspect in multiple arsons that occurred in the Ybor City area of Tampa earlier that morning. Judd said he began the alleged spree by trying to set a tree on fire at 16th Ave. and 6th St.
At around 2:41 a.m., Neely was allegedly caught on camera setting an air conditioning unit on fire behind the Ritz Ybor. Sheriff Judd said 1,000 people were inside the venue at the time.
Neely was spotted again at 3:33 a.m. at 6th Ave. & 19th St., allegedly trying to set a tree and fence on fire. He was accused of starting a trash fire at Gaspar’s Grotto about 45 minutes later.
“He went on a rampage in Ybor last night,” Judd said. “Fortunately, he was not successful in burning anything down, but I shudder when I think that … there were 1,000 people in the Ritz.”
The suspected arsonist was not heard from again until he resurfaced in north Lakeland. Judd said Neely went to school with a woman who lived at the home he allegedly firebombed and had reportedly “creeped her out” multiple times over the years.
“He has not actively stalked her,” Judd said. “We’d call it more passive, occasionally stalking, but when she would tell him to go away, he would leave.”
Neely faces the following charges out of Polk County, with more on the way:
- 3 counts of attempted first degree murder
- 1 count of arson
- 7 counts of firebombing
- 1 count of resisting arrest
Judd said Neely faces additional charges for the alleged crimes in Hillsborough County, but they have not yet been released.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is still investigating the use of force by the three Polk County deputies. The State Attorney’s Office will also review the use of force and any charges against Neely coming from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and Tampa Police Department.
“One of our deputies sustained a wrist injury, but other than that, the only person who was injured is the arsonist who fled from our deputies and threatened them,” Judd said. “For this I am very thankful.”