PAHOKEE, Fla. – Two Palm Beach County sheriff's deputies who had tried to stop a stolen vehicle on a rural road in the Everglades were killed when they were struck by a fellow deputy's patrol car early Wednesday. The driver of the patrol car was injured, authorities said.
Scores of officers combed the region looking for two suspects in the car theft, and later said they arrested one man.
The deputies, described as very close friends, had put spikes on a road that punctured the stolen car's tires. But when they ran to remove the spikes from the road they were struck at about 1:45 a.m. by a canine patrol vehicle that was pursuing the car thieves, Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said.
"They probably did not estimate the K-9 was coming at the speed that it was," Bradshaw said at a news conference.
"You're talking about a road that is absolutely pitch black," he said.
"Everybody involved in this was doing their job. They were doing it the right way but this is a dangerous job," he said.
The stolen car stopped after its tires were punctured and two suspects fled into sugarcane fields. The patrol car that struck the deputies slid into a canal.
At least 75 officers and several canine units spent five hours combing the fields between Pahokee and Belle Glade.
Police later arrested Ernie Kirk Daley Jr., 19, and worked to identify the second suspect, Bradshaw said. He said they would be charged with four felony counts of fleeing and eluding a police officer with injury.
The sheriff said Daley was tracked down with help from residents. "This is a very tight-knit community. They love these deputies," Bradshaw said.
The sheriff identified the dead officers as 13-year veteran Donta Manuel, 33, and Jonathan Wallace, 23, who had been with the sheriff's office for 1 1/2 years.
Wallace was engaged to be married soon and Manuel was going to be his best man at his wedding, Pahokee Mayor J.P. Sasser said. The two were "very close," Sasser said.
The driver of the patrol car that hit them was treated for a concussion and a broken arm, Bradshaw said. A trainee in the car was treated for minor injuries and a police dog was uninjured.
Several Florida law enforcement officers have been killed this year.
A Broward County deputy was killed Nov. 7 while taking a suspect to court; the suspect was charged. Another Broward officer was killed Aug. 10 while looking for stolen vehicles, but no one has been arrested. A Hillsborough County deputy was killed at the wheel of his patrol car on Aug 15 and a suspect was later killed by police sharpshooters.
In September, a Miami-Dade County police officer was killed in an ambush, and officers killed a suspect several hours later. In January, a Jackson County deputy and the sheriff's wife were killed in a shootout and a Florida Highway Patrol trooper was shot to death when he tried to make a traffic stop in central Florida.