A felon accused of killing one sheriff’s deputy and wounding two others was captured Wednesday in the Ocala National Forest after a daylong search by hundreds of law enforcement officers.
Jason Lee Wheeler, 29, was wounded in a gunfight with the officers who captured him in piney woods six miles from his home in rural Lake County, about 30 miles north of Orlando, officers said.
“We were able to flush him out of the woods,” said Lake County Sheriff Chris Daniels. He said he did not know the nature of Wheeler’s wounds. None of the deputies who captured him was wounded, Daniels said.
Wheeler allegedly ambushed three Lake County deputies outside his home at about 9 a.m. as they responded to a domestic battery call. He then escaped on a motorcycle, which was later found ditched, said Nick Pallitto, a spokesman for the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.
Deputy Wayne Koester, 33, died after being taken to a hospital, Pallitto said. Deputies Tom McKane and Bill Crotty were treated for non-life-threatening injuries at a hospital.
Suspect has a record
According to state records, Wheeler has been arrested four times in Florida, mostly for drug crimes, and has served two six-month jail sentences.
Authorities said the incident began when the three deputies arrived at Wheeler’s home in the forest to check a domestic disturbance report phoned in by his girlfriend. When the deputies began securing the home, Wheeler emerged from the woods and fired a shotgun, touching off a firefight.
After his capture, Wheeler was removed from the woods on a stretcher and was being taken to a hospital.