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Standoff seals road in Tampa

A man plagued by infidelity fears is subdued after he kidnaps his wife and holds off deputies for hours.

By BEN MONTGOMERY and AMBER MOBLEY
Published August 4, 2006


[Times photo: James Borchuck]
Tampa police box in a dark blue car, with its door open, during an hourslong standoff on Dale Mabry Highway near Fletcher Avenue.

TAMPA - Esteban Gonzalez didn't drink or smoke. He went to church on special occasions and worked so hard on a Plant City farm that he was promoted to crew chief. He loved his wife so much, his son said, it sometimes made him cry.

On Thursday afternoon, Gonzalez a 49-year-old father of five who collected rusty lawn mowers and worried that his wife was seeing another man, unraveled in a busy intersection on N Dale Mabry Highway, holding sheriff's deputies at bay, snarling traffic and angering motorists and would-be shoppers for hours.

The trouble began shortly before noon, according to sheriff's officials, when Gonzalez forced his wife, Olga Gonzalez, 44, into their car at gunpoint in the parking lot of a Carrollwood Sweet Tomatoes restaurant on Dale Mabry.

Two deputies who were eating at the restaurant saw the confrontation and ran outside to intervene. Gonzalez fired at the deputies and one of them fired back, according to sheriff's spokesman J.D. Callaway.

The Dover man then led them on a high speed chase down N Dale Mabry as lunch-hour traffic grew heavy, Callaway said.

During the pursuit, Olga Gonzalez called her 22-year-old son on a cell phone. She told him his father had kidnapped her and that he was going to shoot the deputies.

"She sounded more mad than scared," Esteban Gonzalez Jr. said. "She had no reason to be scared."

Deputies deployed stop sticks and Gonzalez's 1987 Ford Crown Victoria came to an abrupt halt in the middle of the intersection at N Dale Mabry and W Fletcher Avenue, where Olga Gonzalez escaped.

Authorities talked to Esteban Gonzalez via cell phone and "voice to voice," Callaway said.

Gonzalez threatened to kill himself, or "get out of the car with the gun and force us to do something," Callaway said.

Dozens of officers, including SWAT team members, took up positions along Dale Mabry and neighboring streets as helicopters whirled overhead.

About 2:40 p.m., the sound of two pops echoed through the stillness that had settled on the normally bustling intersection, as deputies fired two tear-powder canisters at the car.

One ricocheted through the car and burst through the windshield, while the other knocked Gonzalez from his car and jarred the gun from his hand, Callaway said.

Gonzalez was taken to Tampa General Hospital, where he was in good condition. He was expected to be released later Thursday night, a hospital representative said.

He was charged with one count of attempted murder on a law enforcement officer, two counts of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, one count of aggravated fleeing to elude, one count of armed kidnapping in a domestic violence case and one count of aggravated assault with a firearm in a domestic violence case.

A check of Gonzalez's criminal record shows no previous arrests in Florida or Texas.

Esteban Gonzalez Jr., 22, who works as a server in a Brandon restaurant, said his father had a nervous breakdown and was detained for three days by authorities about three months ago.

"He came home and he was depressed," he said. "He said he was tired of living a lie, tired of being lied to." The son said his mother called the authorities.

But the young man, who lives with his family in a house with peeling paint and holes in the screen door on Dover Road, never expected his father to do something so drastic.

"Like any marriage, they had ups and downs," he said. "They would be happily married for a couple of months, then they'd argue for a couple of months."

Sometimes, when father and son were alone, Gonzalez would bare his soul. "He just always assumed the worst. He assumed my mom was having an affair with someone else."

His mother and father, who have been married about 25 years, recently returned from visiting family in South Texas. His father also was recently diagnosed with a viral infection, the son said. "I thought I had everything under control," the son said. "I guess I didn't talk to him enough. I think this time he just kept it inside too long."

Just after 5 p.m., as a chihuahua named Rocky chased gnats in their yard, Olga Gonzales came home. She walked blank-faced to the steps where Esteban Jr. was standing and leaned into him.

A woman who accompanied her said she was too shaken to talk.

Amber Mobley can be reached at 813 269-5311 or amobley@sptimes.com Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

[Last modified August 4, 2006, 12:47:47]


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