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Trooper's radio blared warning: 'Stay away'

By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 28, 1998


The urgent warning came across the trooper's radio as he pursued the white Ford Ranger driven by Hank Earl Carr:

"Stay back from the vehicle."

A minute or two later, Florida Highway Patrol Trooper James B. Crooks was fatally shot.

Through a blizzard of bleeps, code-signals and screaming sirens, a tape of Crooks' radio exchange with a Highway Patrol dispatcher, released Wednesday by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, revealed the suddenness of the rookie trooper's death at the hands of Carr.

On the tape, which portrays events as they unfolded about 2:30 p.m. May 19, a dispatcher signals to vehicles that the man suspected of murdering two Tampa police detectives is fleeing in the white 1997 truck with a Pep Boys logo, last seen westbound on Floribraska.

Later in the tape, Crooks comes on the air to say he has seen Carr moving northbound on Interstate 75 in Pasco.

"I'm behind the vehicle that we have a BOLO on at this time," Crooks says, providing the truck's description and its license plate.

Highway Patrol Lt. Gregory LaMont warns Crooks to keep a safe distance: "Stay back from the vehicle, follow it north."

Crooks says the truck has pulled off the interstate at State Road 54. LaMont warns him again with mounting urgency: "Stay away from the vehicle and wait for assistance."

It is unknown how many, if any, of the warnings Crooks heard. It's not clear on the tape whether he acknowledges LaMont's warnings.

Crooks' last words are that the truck appears to be stopping on the exit ramp, then starting up, then stopping again.

After a pause, LaMont can be heard again calling to Crooks, whose identification tag was 1777: "Seventeen seventy-seven, are you listening to me?"

Another pause. Less than two minutes after Crooks radioed he had seen the truck, a passer-by who saw Crooks slumped in his squad car grabbed the radio: "Hello? Hello? . . . Anybody there?"

Just that quickly, the rookie who had been on the force less than a year had been shot to death. He never had time to take his gun from his holster.

Carr was speeding toward Hernando County, where he would take a hostage at a gas station before he killed himself as SWAT troops closed in.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the incident.

Ray Velboom, a special agent supervisor with the department, said the tape helps provide a time frame for the tragedy as it unfolded. He said it appeared that Carr used the stopping-and-starting maneuver to throw Crooks off guard, allowing the killer to get out of the car and gun him down.

"He basically ambushed him," Velboom said.


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