LAKELAND, Fla. (970 WFLA) – Authorities are investigating two carjacking cases that happened in Polk County Sunday that left one suspect dead, three suspects in custody, and two others on the run.

The first happened in Lakeland. Police there say officers responded to an armed carjacking at BarnettPark at 3:05 a.m. Police say a Winter Haven man and his girlfriend were parked on the south side of the park near the main entrance in their 2005 Suzuki Aerio when the man says four black males approached the vehicle with two on each side of the car. Ward said the suspects told them at gunpoint to get out of the car, lay down on the pavement, and then police say one of the suspects struck Ward several times with a semi-automatic handgun while another suspect kicked the woman causing her to hit her head on the pavement. Police say cell phones, a wallet and purse were also taken from the victims. As the suspects drove off in the victim’s car, police say one of them fired a handgun at the victims.

Then, at 6:00 a.m. Sunday, PolkCounty deputies say a 56-year-old Lakeland woman was carjacked at a parking lot near Wabash Avenue and Parker Street by three young black men. Deputies say they took her car - a 2002 blue Ford Escape - and her cell phone. Deputies say the woman was pistol whipped, had a gun pointed at her, and fought her attackers; she was checked out by EMS for minor injuries from being forced to the ground and she is in good condition. 

An hour later, Lakeland Police say a dispatcher who just got off-duty was heading home and spotted both of the vehicles stolen in the armed carjacking heading north on 98 from Memorial Boulevard. Police say the dispatcher knew about of both vehicles descriptions so she alerted on-duty police officers. When both of the vehicles briefly pulled into a gas station, the dispatcher saw the tags had been switched.

When Lakeland police officers tried to stop the 2005 Suzuki Aerio, they say the driver of the Suzuki fled and refused to stop. The other stolen vehicles evaded officers so officers say PCSO was notified. Police say they pursued the stolen vehicle south bound and then the driver intentionally rammed the rear of a 2008 Ford Focus numerous times near 3rd Street and North Florida Avenue.

The Ford Focus spun out of control, hit a tree and rolled back into traffic, police say.  Police say one of their officers quickly maneuvered his marked patrol car to avoid a crash with the Ford Focus and then hit the rear of the suspects’ vehicle which caused the suspect’s vehicle to spin into the path of another officer’s car. As the suspects’ vehicle was moving, police say that driver, 24-year-old Brian Demarcus West of Auburndale, jumped from it and was hit as well as another officer’s vehicle who was trying to avoid the collision. Police say West was transported to the Lakeland Regional Medical Center (LRMC) where he died of his injuries. The other suspects were transported to LRMC and treated for minor injuries.

Detective are currently interviewing all of the suspects as well as working with PCSO and the State Attorney’s Office in determining the appropriate charges. Memorial Blvd and North Florida Avenue was closed for six hours during the investigation.

Police say the driver of the 2008 Ford Focus was not injured during the accident.

Lakeland Police say two other juvenile suspects, a 13-year-old and 17-year-old have not been charged.

Deputies say FHP spotted the Escape around 9 a.m. and then later found it abandoned on Old Dixie Highway a few hundred yards west of the Polk Parkway. Sheriff’s officials say deputies found three of the five suspects in a field with their helicopter near Old Dixie and the Parkway. Deputies say two 18-year-olds and a 16-year-old were taken into custody - charges are pending investigation on the three while two other suspects are at large. 

Police say both carjacking cases appear to be related and they are still investigating.

Photo Credit Lakeland Police Department