HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Two suspects were shot Tuesday night by at least one Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office deputy. Officials say the incident happened after a drug deal gone bad.
The shooting happened around 6 p.m. in the parking lot of Denny’s on Sun City Center Boulevard, right off Interstate 75 in Ruskin.
Undercover deputies met with the two suspects to buy drugs, according to the sheriff’s office. One of the suspects pulled a gun, leading a deputy to shout, “Undercover,” officials said. That’s when backups moved in.
One suspect shot at the undercover SUV they were in, shattering the glass with at least four bullets, according to the sheriff’s office. The deputy behind the glass somehow managed to avoid those and escaped unharmed.
“It’s truly a miracle that he wasn’t hit,” Col. Donna Lusczynski said.
Six deputies returned fire. Both suspects then took off from the scene, ramming at least one Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office vehicle, officials said. A chase ensued.
Police arrested Efren Esparza-Lopez, 19, of Ruskin.
Officials said Esparza-Lopez was treated at a hospital and booked into the Orient Road Jail Wednesday morning.
His charges include four counts of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer and armed robbery with a firearm.
Charges are pending against the second suspect, Luis Gutierrez, 20, also of Ruskin.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said he remains at Tampa General Hospital with life-threatening injuries.
The sheriff’s office explained why an undercover drug deal was conducted in a busy place with bystanders nearby.
“They (drug dealers) come out into these busy areas because they want to make sure that there’s other people around, as well, and that the police aren’t driving through,” Col. Luscyznski said. “So we often do it at the request of where they want to do the deal.”
All six of the involved deputies will be placed on routine administrative leave. Their names will not be released, officials said, because they all work in undercover capacities.