Killer had key to handcuffs
By Compiled from Times staff reports
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 21, 1998
ust before 10 a.m. Tuesday, Hank Earl Carr and his girlfriend, Bernice Bowen, pulled into Tampa Fire Station No. 7 at Hanna and Nebraska avenues.
Bowen was screaming. She needed help for her son.
Firefighters pulled lifeless Joey Bennett, 4, from the car and began CPR. They couldn't find a pulse, and the boy was bleeding from the head.
Carr took off in his car when he saw police officers pull up. He headed to his Crenshaw Street apartment, leaving Bowen behind.
After police Cpl. Brian O'Connor pulled up to the apartment, he saw Carr running down a back alley. Officers captured him a short time later.
Officers searched Carr. They never discovered the handcuff key he would later say he wore on a chain around his neck.
"He was clean," O'Connor said. "We might have seen the chain, but (the key) would have been hidden under his shirt."
Handcuffed, Carr was taken inside his home, where three other police officers and two police detectives, Randy Bell and Rick Childers, spoke to him.
O'Connor said initially that Carr acted like a man who had lost his son. Though he is not the father of Joey Bennett, Carr told authorities he was the boy's dad. Then, his demeanor changed.
"He went from being a distraught father to being paranoid," O'Connor said. "He just kept looking around and we knew that something wasn't right."
The officer wondered whether Carr was planning an escape but realized he was outnumbered.
"There was nowhere for him to go at that point," O'Connor said. "He makes a jump for a gun and he has 2,000 pounds of police officer on him. He just waited for his opportunity."
* * *
Carr told police Joey was shot when a rifle accidentally went off as the boy dragged it behind him. Later, he told officers the boy was shot as he took the rifle from him.
Tampa police Officer Marilyn Lee said Bowen's daughter Kayla, 5, told her that Carr shot her little brother.
"He did not accidentally shoot his child according to the older sister, Kayla," Lee said. "He did it on purpose."
Lee said that Carr and Bowen had a big fight the night before and that Carr had tossed Bowen's belongings out the window.
Police had responded to fights there before, she said, and the little girl knew a lot about guns.
"She knew what a Glock was," Lee said. "That's not normal."
Lee said Bowen lied to police to cover for Carr. For instance, Bowen knew that Carr had been using her husband's name and that he was a fugitive from Ohio.
If Bowen had given police the correct name, Lee said, they would have used more caution with Carr. Instead, the name Bennett brought up no criminal record.
Lee said Kayla described the shooting in detail: Carr showed no emotion, no anger. He just pointed the rifle at Joey and pulled the trigger.
Kayla kept telling police how Joey's mouth had looked, his lips swollen and bloody.
Police officials took Carr to the homicide unit for questioning.
Detective Greg Stout said he remembers when Childers and Bell took Carr to the interview room for questioning.
"This was like any other day," he said. "We bring suspects in and out of here. There's nothing that says this was really different."
The SKS semiautomatic rifle used to kill Joey was logged into police evidence.
Childers and Bell took Carr to his apartment to perform a "walk through" to recreate what happened when Joey Bennett was shot.
Childers drove an unmarked green Ford Taurus with Bell in the passenger seat and Carr seated in the back behind Childers. Once they arrived, Childers confiscated another SKS rifle at Carr's home and placed it in the trunk.
Then they left for the Police Department again. The detectives traveled south on Nebraska and west on Sligh to get on the interstate. They exited at Floribraska Avenue, possibly out of habit because they were used to taking that route to go to the old police headquarters.
A struggle ensued on Elmore Street. Carr had used the small, universal key to unlock his handcuffs and grabbed Childers' 9mm Glock from a shoulder holster. When Bell tried to jump into the backseat, he also was shot and killed.
On Wednesday, authorities would not go into further detail about how Carr was able to wrest Childers' gun away from him or how both detectives were shot.
"We have to put this puzzle together to get what happened and how it happened," said Chief Bennie Holder. "We haven't had time to do that."
* * *
Mike Henderson saw people wrestling inside the unmarked Taurus that was in front of him as he exited Interstate 275 and Floribraska.
"They were bouncing around in the seat," said Henderson, 47, who was delivering auto parts for Pep Boys. "In my own mind, I thought: kids. Playing after school."
The car stopped, and Henderson could see more movement. He heard nothing.
"I pulled over to the side, not wanting to get involved in the deal," he said. "That's when (Carr) came out the back door, came running over to me. . . . I thought it was a police officer in distress, the way he came at me with a gun in his hand."
Henderson said Carr told him, "I need your truck and I want you to get out."
Henderson could tell he was in a hurry, but Carr was otherwise composed. Carr then reached in the truck and hit him with the gun. Henderson looked up and saw Carr in front of the windshield, pointing a gun barrel at his head.
Henderson climbed out of the truck.
Carr ran back to the detective's car, reached in the driver's window and took the keys, Henderson said. Then he opened the detective's trunk and removed another gun.
Henderson slowly moved away from the truck, then ran for a cluster of trees when Carr turned his back. He still did not realize that two officers had been killed.
Carr fled in the Pep Boys truck, and two women came over to Henderson and told him there had been a shooting. He said a TECO employee pulled off the ramp and called 911.
Authorities did not know it was two Tampa police officers who had been slain until the first officers arrived.
"I was called to go to a shooting scene on Elmore," said Tampa police spokesman Steve Cole. "It wasn't until I walked up to the car window and recognized Ricky Childers in the driver's seat that I realized it was two officers."
* * *
State Trooper James Crooks was parked in the median of Interstate 75, just a few miles south of State Road 54, when the message came across his police radio.
Tampa police were in search of a white pickup. Its driver was wanted for killing two detectives. The suspect was headed north on the interstate.
Crooks saw Carr's truck within minutes. He immediately pulled onto the interstate and flashed his high beams, signaling motorist Tim Bain, a University of South Florida student, to clear a path.
With only 27 minutes left in his shift, Crooks followed Carr, watching as a knot of traffic forced the truck to slow to stop while it tried to slip off the highway at the SR 54 exit. Suddenly, Carr got out of his truck, went over to Crooks and shot him dead.
Bain, 20, couldn't believe what he had just seen. Another motorist -- who apparently also witnessed the shooting -- tried to run over Carr as he ran back to his truck. The unidentified motorist then rammed and chased the getaway truck, Bain said.
Just 100 yards from where Crooks died, Pasco Deputy James Campbell was preparing surveillance near the exit ramp.
He knew two Tampa officers were down but hadn't heard about Crooks. Then, a truck driver hailed him with the news.
"Right at that moment, I saw a truck matching the description pull around me and onto 54," said Campbell, 51. He pursued Carr back onto I-75 with lights and sirens.
With heavy traffic in the northbound lanes, Carr veered wildly back on the interstate. Motorists cleared a path as the deputy followed.
Campbell said what happened next forced him to call upon his years of training and faith in God.
"(Carr) slid the rear window open and turned and looked at me," Campbell said. "It was a very hard look, as if he was just assessing my position."
Driving with one hand, Carr turned and fired an assault rifle toward Campbell.
Campbell, who had been told the gunman had only a pistol, was stunned by the bullet's impact. "It sliced right through the windshield like hot butter," he said.
Campbell, who was not hit, grabbed his shotgun, poked it through the bullet hole and tried to fire when Carr squeezed off a second shot.
"I ducked underneath the dash and tried to keep steering -- we were doing about 90, 95," he said. "He fired a third round and that's the one that hit."
His rearview mirror took the bullet, but fragments lodged in his clavicle, Campbell said. Glass fragments peppered his arms, chest and face.
About that moment, Pasco sheriff's Lt. Bruce Schmelter passed Campbell. The 23-year-veteran fired 13 shots from his 9mm as he sped along at 90 mph. He hit Carr's truck, but it is unclear if Carr was hit, said Capt. Tom Hennessy, who was the commanding officer during the chase.
"I told (Schmelter) to take the shot if he had the opportunity," said Hennessy, who saw Carr fire at several motorists. "Campbell was hit and civilians were being fired upon. We needed to do what we could to stop this guy."
Schmelter, injured by flying glass after Carr blew out his windshield, gave up the chase after a stray bullet from Carr plowed through his bumper and into the radiator.
Trucker Christopher Espinosa, 56, who lives west of Brooksville, found himself caught in the middle of the gunplay. He and his partner, Michael Arroyonot, had picked up a load in Tampa on Tuesday and had stopped for lunch at the Flying J truck stop on State Road 52.
As they drove north, Carr passed them in the left lane. Suddenly, Espinosa saw Carr point a rifle out the back window of his vehicle.
Carr fired just one shot, and it went through the driver's-side window and struck Espinosa in the upper left arm, shattering a bone, according to officials at Oak Hill Hospital in Spring Hill.
Espinosa declined to be interviewed, but commented through hospital spokesman Chris Hyers.
Hyers said Espinosa was in good spirits after the shooting.
"I feel like a lucky guy," Espinosa told Myers. "I just wish I would have taken longer to eat lunch."
Pasco deputies, seven in all, chased Carr to the county line, Campbell said. Only one was stationed at an overpass, hoping to get a shot of the gunman.
Deputy Bob Cressman, 49, sought permission to fire from his perch on County Road 41 above the highway. He fired one shot, hitting Carr's truck.
"I'm sure he wanted to empty his weapon on the guy, but felt he could only get one shot without endangering the public," Hennessy said.
In the air, Hernando sheriff's Sgt. Tom Nowlin joined the chase just south of the Pasco-Hernando county line in a helicopter. He saw Carr hit another vehicle as he drove north on I-75. Carr spun twice before continuing north.
As Nowlin swooped down on Carr's pickup to get a better look, Nowlin saw Carr point a black gun out the driver's-side window. A burst of shots came his way.
He banked away, noticing a bullet hole below his right leg. The bullet had pierced the helicopter's hull and exited through the roof, passing within inches of Nowlin's leg. It might easily have hit him in the face had the helicopter been tilted slightly forward.
Back on the ground, despite his injuries, Campbell stayed with Carr into Hernando County and onto State Road 50.
After a sergeant gave him permission to fire, Campbell fired four shotgun blasts at Carr's truck.
* * *
Wayne Willett, who lives in the Tall Pines RV Park, knew something serious was about to happen when he saw four deputies walk up the I-75 embankment. Three carried shotguns. One had a case of spikes to string across the road. About a half-mile to the south, a helicopter hovered about 30 feet above Carr's pickup truck.
"I said, "Ed, that deputy just took a shotgun out of his car. Something's going on here,'" Willett, 51, told his neighbor, Ed Miller.
Carr, apparently seeing the spikes, raced the truck down the exit ramp -- with the helicopter following so low it had to pull up to miss utility lines along SR 50.
The deputies fired at the truck from the embankment, flattening its left rear tire; the truck rolled across the median and passed the gas pumps in the parking lot of a Shell service station.
"He just opened the door and rolled out. When he got on his feet, that's when he fired two times -- bang, bang."
"He looked like little mattered to him," said Mike Bedwell, 36, who was pumping gas at the station when Carr drove in.
Carr went inside the station, where he took an employee hostage.
By just about 3 p.m., dozens of law enforcement officers from at least four counties rushed to the scene. Hernando County sheriff's Maj. Richard Nugent took command. His main goal: to get the hostage out unharmed. The Pasco SWAT team took positions in the woods behind the Shell station. Hernando's team covered the front.
Nugent gave the dozens of snipers the go-ahead to shoot if they had a clear view of Carr.
"Given the violence he had performed -- shooting his son, murdering the detectives and the trooper and firing at dozens of others -- we had a clear indication of what his intentions were," Nugent said. "We figured it would be best to end the situation as soon as possible."
Carr, however, never entered the snipers' line of fire.
Inside the store, Carr did not actively threaten Stephanie Kramer, said her boyfriend, Chris Hill, 31.
"He just warned her that if she tried to get away, that would make him do what he didn't want to do," Hill said.
And, locked in the small cashier's booth of bulletproof plastic, there was no way for her to escape, he said.
Kramer, 27, was still too upset on Wednesday to talk to reporters, said her sister, Tina Householder, 32.
"She was trapped in there with a guy who had nothing to lose," Householder said. "I don't think she's quite absorbed it all.
"One minute you'll talk to her and she's fine. The next minute, she's on the verge of tears," said Householder, who visited Kramer for about two hours Wednesday afternoon.
While Carr was holed up in the gas station, Hernando's negotiation team set up in two rooms at a nearby Days Inn. Led by Deputy Marisabel Kelly, the negotiators reached Carr by telephone at 3:50 p.m. At first, Carr wouldn't stay on the line. Then the line was busy for several minutes while WFLA-radio in Tampa and the Times talked to Carr. The telephone company eventually changed the number, and the negotiators established regular contact.
During the conversations, Carr's mood went from calm to agitated. He started crying several times. At one point, he said he wasn't coming out alive.
Deputy Kelly consoled Carr about the 4-year-old boy's death and tried to develop a rapport. Carr seemed to respond to Kelly's sympathetic ear. He said he would not to hurt his hostage.
"He and Deputy Kelly seemed to get along well," Nugent said. "She was able to keep him talking."
Carr admitted to accidentally shooting the boy and killing the Tampa detectives. He said the detectives were bothering him. He did not say that he had shot Trooper Crooks.
Carr's only demand was to talk to his girlfriend, whom he referred to as his wife. She was flown to the scene by helicopter from Tampa. Carr was not allowed to see her, but they talked several times on the phone.
The conversations seemed to help Carr decide to release the hostage.
"I think at that point he was realizing what the situation was. He knew he wasn't going to get away," Nugent said.
Carr understood, however, that if he let Kramer go, he would have nothing left to bargain with. He said he was afraid the SWAT teams would kill him right after she left.
Nugent had considered storming the station even with Kramer still inside. But about 7:30 p.m., Carr said he would let Kramer go.
"SWAT commanders believe in action. Negotiators believe that they can talk anyone out," Nugent said. "In this case waiting and talking was the right decision."
At first, Kramer didn't want to leave. She was concerned that she would be shot or that Carr would be killed. After a few minutes talking with negotiators, she ran from the building. She clutched two letters Carr had written to his girlfriend during the standoff. She also had a handcuff key Carr had given her. Nugent wasn't sure if the key came from the slain Tampa detectives or whether Carr used it to unlock the handcuffs.
Detectives hustled to question Kramer. They wanted to know three things: Were there any other hostages? How many weapons did he have, and where was he when she left?
Those answers helped Nugent and Sgt. Jim Blade, who led the SWAT teams, plan the siege.
Nugent wanted to make sure Carr had no chance to walk out and fire a few shots in a suicidal last gasp.
"He wasn't going to get the upper hand again," Nugent said.
About 7:40 p.m., the SWAT teams fired six tear gas canisters into the building. After launching the second canister, SWAT members heard one shot fired from inside the building.
When the gas failed to flush Carr out, another team used explosives to blow holes in the back and side walls. The side wall remained intact, so as one team went in through the back, the other stormed through the front door. No shots were fired.
They found Carr in the cashier's area behind the bulletproof plastic. He had shot himself in the head with one of his 9mm Glocks. Detectives later found the assault rifle in the white truck.
Officials with the medical examiner's office took Carr's body away just before midnight.
"Trying to rationalize what an irrational person does isn't worth the time," Nugent said. "Three cops and a little boy are dead. You can't rationalize that."