Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper is clarifying details surrounding what led to a deputy’s pursuit of four theft suspects in Yulee on Wednesday afternoon.
Leeper said in a statement released Thursday that the forceful assault of a deputy by one of the suspects is what led to the pursuit that ended in a major crash on State Road 200 that left an innocent driver in critical condition.
Leeper made clear that it is not under the Sheriff’s Office’s policy to actively pursue a suspect “just for a property crime or for retail theft due to the inherent danger to the public.”
On Wednesday, it was reported that the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office was involved in a pursuit after theft suspects were caught stealing at a Kohl’s department store in the Villages of Amelia shopping center.
In his statement, Leeper said a deputy saw a crime happening at the store. The deputy approached the suspects as they were leaving the store and when the suspects reversed their vehicle, they slammed into the front of the deputy’s patrol vehicle. The deputy then, Leeper said, exited his vehicle to peacefully arrest the suspects.
The statement said the suspects intentionally attempted to strike the deputy with their vehicle.
“Again, these criminals showed a blatant disregard for human life by trying to seriously harm, or worse, kill one of our deputies on the same day that we lost Eric Oliver back in 2016,” the statement said. “This action of aggravated assault on a LEO is a forcible felony and ultimately led the the initiation of the vehicle pursuit.”
Leeper said the suspects were driving recklessly to elude deputies and eventually crossed over the median into oncoming traffic on SR-200 and hit a woman’s car head-on.
She was taken to the hospital in critical condition. The four suspects were taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. As of Thursday, only three remained in the hospital, according to the sheriff.
“Again, it is very upsetting that someone else got hurt and it weighs heavy on my heart to know that this innocent bystander is in the hospital instead of being with their family this Thanksgiving because of the actions of these heartless criminals,” Leeper said.
News4JAX is not identifying the suspect who is out of the hospital because, at the time of the sheriff’s statement, the was only charged with retail theft with serious charges pending, according to the sheriff.
Once the remaining three are released from the hospital, they will also be arrested with several charges pending as well.
The investigation is ongoing and more charges are pending.
The Florida Highway Patrol is also investigating the crash.
Read the sheriff’s full statement below:
First and foremost my heart and prayers goes out to the innocent victim that was seriously hurt by reckless criminals that have no regard for human life. Our first priority is always to protect our citizens and keep our community safe. I would like to take this opportunity to clarify some of the details that were reported yesterday. It is not the policy of the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office to initiate a vehicle pursuit just for a property crime or for retail theft due to the inherent danger to the public. Yesterday it was reported that the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office initiated a vehicle pursuit for a retail theft that resulted in a traffic crash injuring one of our citizens. Yesterday afternoon one of our deputies spotted a crime in progress at the Kohl’s Department store in Yulee and that’s when our deputy made contact with the suspects. When our deputy made contact with the suspects as they were fleeing the retail store, the suspects placed their vehicle in reverse and slammed into the front of our deputy’s patrol vehicle. Our deputy quickly exited the vehicle to try and apprehend these suspects. Our deputy attempted to make a peaceful apprehension but the suspects intentionally attempted to strike our deputy with their vehicle. Again these criminals showed a blatant disregard for human life by trying to seriously harm, or worse, kill one of our deputies on the same day that we lost Eric Oliver back in 2016. This action of aggravated assault on a LEO is a forcible felony and ultimately led the the initiation of the vehicle pursuit. The suspects put citizens in danger as they drove recklessly down State Road 200 before crossing the median and colliding with the victim’s vehicle. Again, it is very upsetting that someone else got hurt and it weighs heavy on my heart to know that this innocent bystander is in the hospital instead of being with their family this Thanksgiving because of the actions of these heartless criminals. Three of the four suspects are receiving medical treatment and will be booked when they are released. […] This is still an active investigation and more charges are pending. The Florida Highway Patrol is conducting the vehicle crash part of the investigation and we will release more information when we are able to do so. I was raised in Nassau County. My children were raised in Nassau County and now my grandchildren are being raised here and I want to continue to keep our county safe from thug criminals who break the law and cause harm to our wonderful community.
Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper