LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) – A man who had been pulled over for a traffic violation shot two sheriff’s deputies Thursday, killing one of them and prompting an intensive manhunt that forced a lockdown at three schools, officials said.

The shooter was first approached during a traffic stop, but he fled into a wooded area when the officer began asking him about his identity, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.

That officer and a deputy who arrived seconds later with a police dog chased the suspect into the woods. Both officers and the dog were hit by gunfire, Judd said.

The suspect exchanged fire with more officers shortly afterward when they approached a house in the wooded area, but he got away, Judd said.

“We will not sleep. We will not rest until we have the suspect in custody for this heinous action today,” a visibly shaken Judd said.

The shooting occurred near Kathleen High School, which was locked down, Wood said. A woman at the school who would identify herself only as Mrs. Platt said students were locked in their classrooms and were safe.

Two other schools farther away also were locked down.

Authorities cordoned off a large area around the suspect’s car but had not evacuated any homes. Helicopters circled in wide arcs as emergency vehicles raced up and down roads.

Television video footage showed officers with shields searching a wooded area with traffic backed up on nearby Interstate 4, which runs through the city about 35 miles east of Tampa.

Officers arrived from neighboring counties to assist in the search.

Judd said 10,000 to 15,000 people live in the area. Officers were going house to house in some areas asking people to lock themselves inside.

The sheriff identified the slain deputy as Vernon Matthew Williams, 39. The other deputy was shot in the leg and will survive, he said. Williams’ police dog was also fatally wounded.

Williams, a husband and father of three, had been with the sheriff’s office since April 1994.

AP-ES-09-28-06 1826EDT


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