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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Florida man dies

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Fla. -- A Clay County man being transported to an area hospital was stunned with a Taser gun when, according to police, he became violent inside an ambulance. Deputies said a friend of 28-year-old Ashley Stephens called for help at about 5 a.m. Thursday after she realized the man was not feeling well. An ambulance came to take Stephens to an area hospital, but once en route investigators said the man became violent.

Deputies said Stephens was not only sick, but also on drugs, making the early-morning ambulance ride anything but normal. "They traveled for about a mile when the subject became very violent in the back of the ambulance. He began struggling and fighting. He actually kicked out a rear window of the ambulance," said Columbia County Sheriff Bill Gootee.

Investigators said things got worse when Stephens jumped from the ambulance, crossed two lanes of traffic and ended up in a median, where he was shocked with a Taser gun. "They tried to subdue him, and in doing so he became extremely violent," Gootee said.

Deputies told Channel 4 the Taser gun was deployed toward the 5-foot-8-inch, 350-pound man a total of three times, but he said only two of the bolts hit him. An ambulance then took Stephens to a local hospital, where deputies said he died. Stephens' death and the incidents leading up his death are under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

"We are here for a fact-finding investigation, and those facts will be gathered and turned over to the state attorney's office," said Dennis Norred, of the FDLE. Channel 4's Emily Pantelides reported Stephens' prior arrests record dated back to 1999 and included various drug arrests.

The two deputies involved in the incident were being questioned by the FDLE. Gootee said because of Thursday's incident he would look into his department's use of Taser guns and whether the weapons should continue to be used.

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