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Published: Thursday, 2/10/2005

Former northwest Ohioan accused of killing Florida deputy

FROM BLADE STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS
Wheeler Wheeler
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PAISLEY, Fla. - A former northwest Ohio resident accused of shooting and killing a sheriff's deputy and wounding two others was captured yesterday after a daylong manhunt in the Ocala National Forest, officials said.

Jason Lee Wheeler, 29, was wounded in a gunfight with the officers who captured him in woods near his home at about 5 p.m., authorities said.

Lake County Sheriff Chris Daniels said the suspect was removed from the woods in a rural area about 30 miles north of Orlando on a stretcher. A hospital spokesman said Mr. Wheeler was in critical condition yesterday night. None of the deputies who captured him was wounded.

Mr. 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 Capt. Nick Pallitto, a spokesman for the Lake County Sheriff's Office.

Deputy Wayne Koester died at a hospital, and the two other deputies were treated for non-life-threatening leg wounds, Captain Pallitto said.

According to state records, Mr. Wheeler has been arrested four times in Florida, mostly for drug crimes, and has served two six-month jail sentences.

Mr. Wheeler lived previously in Napoleon and Defiance and was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and felonious assault between 1997 and 2000, said Henry County Sheriff John Nye.

On July 13, 2000, Mr. Wheeler was arrested after a fight at a home on Henry County Road Z. A woman said he hit her husband with a wooden shovel handle several times and then drove off, according to a Henry County Sheriff's Office report.

The case was dismissed because the victim was unavailable, Henry County Prosecutor John Hanna said.

He did not know whether the victim moved or if there was another reason the man was unavailable.

The case could have been refiled at the victim's request, but it never was, Mr. Hanna said.

Mr. Hanna, who has been county prosecutor since 1978, did not remember any other cases involving Mr. Wheeler.

The Henry County Sheriff's Office had no other records involving him.

Defiance and Defiance County officials said they had no information about Mr. Wheeler.

Authorities in Florida said the most recent incident began when the three deputies arrived at Mr. Wheeler's home in the forest to check a domestic disturbance report phoned in by his girlfriend.

When the deputies began securing the home, Mr. Wheeler emerged from the woods and fired a shotgun, touching off a firefight.

Sara Heckerman, Mr. Wheeler's girlfriend, warned authorities in a 911 call that her boyfriend "almost killed me yesterday" and was poised to fire upon law enforcement.

"My old man has lost it, and he has promised me that if a cop pulls into that driveway there's going to be a gun battle," Ms. Heckerman said on the tape released by the sheriff's office.

"He's a big boy, so you might want to bring more than one," she said.

About 500 law enforcement officers used airboats and helicopters to search for Mr. Wheeler.

Residents were told to stay indoors, two elementary schools were locked down, and some roads were closed during the search.



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