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Wounded officer still plans family vacation

With a bullet still lodged in his shoulder, a police officer shot during an attempted robbery has been released from the hospital.

[Times photo: John Pendygraft]
Luis Vasquez, with his wife, Beth, at his side, describes how his arm went numb when he was shot during a struggle early Wednesday as he was filling up the family SUV before leaving town for a ski vacation in North Carolina.

By TAMARA LUSH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 28, 2001
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TAMPA -- As a robber held a gun to Luis Vasquez's head, all Vasquez could think of was his wife and two children sitting in the family's Ford just a few short feet away.

This guy is too close to the truck, Vasquez thought. How reckless is he going to be?

Vasquez, an off-duty Tampa police officer, began to struggle with the man in the gas station parking lot. Images of carjackings and bullets went through his mind.

He grabbed for the gun, and it fired.

The bullet hit Vasquez in the shoulder. The robber ran off.

"It was the scariest thing that ever happened to me," said Beth Vasquez, who saw the attack from the passenger seat of the Ford Expedition and dialed 911. The children slept through it all.

The shooting happened at about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday as the family was setting off for a two-week ski vacation in North Carolina. On Thursday, Luis and Beth Vasquez spoke to reporters about what happened.

The couple had decided to travel at night -- that way, their 9-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter could sleep in the back of the SUV, and the drive would be quiet. First, they had to get gas, and they stopped at a Citgo on E Bearss Avenue, just off Interstate 275.

Mrs. Vasquez and the kids stayed inside the SUV, with the doors locked and the windows rolled up. As a 13-year police department veteran, Vasquez always told his wife not to take unnecessary risks in public places at night.

Just as Vasquez placed the gas handle back into the pump, a man walked up and pulled a gun, telling him that it was a robbery.

"Probably because I looked like a tourist," said Vasquez. "We had a cargo top carrier on the truck."

Vasquez, 35, said that his arm went numb the minute the bullet hit him. He was released from the hospital on Wednesday, with the bullet still lodged in his shoulder.

The Vasquezes are still planning to go on vacation -- on Thursday, Vasquez said he would like to leave that night -- but the shooting left his wife shaken.

"I have a sense that maybe I am not as safe as I think I am," said Mrs. Vasquez.

The suspect is described as a black male, in his late 20s, 5-feet-10, weighing 180 pounds with a short afro. He was wearing dark clothing with orange writing. Sheriff's deputies ask anyone with information to call 1-800-873-8477.

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