Over the weekend, deputies from the Polk County sheriff’s office disarmed an alleged firebomber in central Florida, leaving him with a wound he won’t soon forget.
Emasculation near Dinosaur World
Responding to a 911 call on Nov. 20, the sheriff’s office dispatched deputies to a north Lakeland neighborhood to deal with a suspected arsonist who was throwing incendiary devices at a residence.
Sheriff Grady Judd indicated that 30-year-old Luke Neely, whom he characterized as a “bad man,” had been throwing “Molotov cocktails onto a roof and at a house,” with a mother, father, and their adult daughter still inside.
Deputies arrived one minute and 18 seconds after receiving the call. According to the sheriff’s office, the first deputy on the scene witnessed the suspect throwing one of seven Molotov cocktails, two of which had exploded on the house. Other incendiary devices had reportedly caught fire in the yard.
When the deputy ordered the suspect to stop, Neely reportedly got into an older-model Chevrolet pickup truck and fled the scene.
The deputy attempted to pull the suspect over, but failing that, continued to give chase south down U.S. 98.
On account of the arson charges, the deputy determined that a precision immobilization technique (PIT maneuver) was warranted and made two attempts, the second of which broke his wrist.
Neely managed to continue fleeing westbound on I-4.
West of the county line, in the Hillsborough County area, the truck, which had sustained significant damage from the PIT maneuver, began to slow down. The deputies seized upon this deceleration as an opportunity to bring the chase to an end.
Sheriff’s deputies blocked and rammed the truck, causing a vehicle crash. The arson suspect did not, however, immediately surrender.
The Lakeland resident got out of the truck allegedly brandishing an “AR-style” rifle with a fully loaded .380 handgun on his hip and 57 rounds of ammunition to spare.
According to Judd, Neely began to run toward a tyrannosaurus rex statue on the perimeter of the theme park Dinosaur World.
Three deputies began shooting, firing a total of 10 shots. The suspect was struck twice in the right leg, once in the left leg, and once in the groin.
Judd said, “We’ve changed the looks of his groin forever, if you know what I mean.”
The wounds are reportedly non-life-threatening, though it is unclear whether the suspect’s ego will survive.
“We’re blessed that everything turned out the way that it did. It certainly could have been a lot worse,” said Judd.
The Polk County sheriff’s office noted in a statement that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the deputy-involved use of force because the incident occurred in Hillsborough County.
Neely’s alleged firebombing spree concerns more than the Polk and Hillsborough Counties.
During his weekend press conference, Judd said that the suspect had “started early” the day of the incident, setting multiple fires in Ybor City and the Tampa area.
After trying to fell a tree with flame, Neely allegedly tried to set fire to the rear of the Ritz Ybor, which had nearly 1,000 people inside at the time. Judd indicated that Neely successfully set the building’s air conditioning unit on fire.
The suspect allegedly went on to set additional fires, including a trash fire at Gaspar’s Grotto around 4 a.m., just hours before his run-in with Polk County deputies. One of the incidents can be seen in this video obtained by WFLA:
Alleged arsonist caught on surveillance video in Ybor
Neely has been charged with three counts of attempted first-degree murder, one count of arson, seven counts of firebombing, and one count of resisting arrest. Judd said that Neely will also face other charges, such as fleeing to elude.
Neely was previously arrested by the Polk County sheriff’s office in 2016 and charged with disorderly conduct, using a firearm while intoxicated, and resisting arrest. He was psychiatrically admitted under the Baker Act in 2020.
News Conference – Luke Neely (November 20, 2022)
Sheriff Judd has earned a reputation for taking a no-nonsense approach to crime.
During an October appearance on “Fox & Friends,” Judd told Florida homeowners, “I would highly suggest that if a looter breaks into your home, comes into your home while you’re there to steal stuff that you take your gun and you shoot him. You shoot him so he looks like grated cheese.”
In June, Polk County deputies shot and killed an “active shooter” who had threatened to kill his wife and members of law enforcement.
According to Judd, when 56-year-old Michael Loman came outside with a rifle to make good on his threat, “He chose for us to shoot him and we accommodated his request.”
Judd added, “We shot him a lot … and that was the end of the gunfight.”
In December 2021, Judd extolled the quick thinking and just action taken by a homeowner who shot a home invader.
Judd said that the homeowner “had a gun, he knew how to use it, it was loaded, and he shot him a lot. He gave him an early Christmas present. Only Santa Claus gets to come in your house — and Santa Claus is invited.”