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Ritz hotel among multiple properties hit with Molotov cocktails, pit maneuver performed on assailant during car chase


Madeleine List

The Charlotte Observer

A man bombed a home with seven Molotov cocktails after setting fires at multiple other properties, including a Ritz hotel, according to a Florida sheriff’s office.

Deputies with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office responded to a home in north Lakeland just before 8:15 a.m. on Nov. 20 after neighbors called 911 to report a home’s roof on fire, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said during a news conference posted on Facebook.

Callers reported that a man was throwing Molotov cocktails onto the roof of the home while a father, mother and their adult daughter were inside, Judd said.

The man, whom Judd later identified as Luke Neely, 30, knew the daughter because they had gone to high school together, he said.

When a deputy arrived on scene, he saw Neely throw one of the Molotov cocktails onto the roof, Judd said. Two of the seven that he’d thrown exploded on the house, and the others rolled down and ignited in the yard.

Neely then jumped into a vehicle and ”began to flee,” Judd said.

The responding deputy tried to stop him multiple times by using a PIT maneuver, which is a pursuit tactic used by law enforcement to force vehicles to abruptly turn 180 degrees and stop.

The second time the deputy tried a PIT maneuver, he broke his hand on the steering wheel, and other deputies took over the chase, Judd said.

The pursuing deputies were eventually able to cause Neely’s vehicle to crash, at which point he got out and started to run, Judd said. As he ran, deputies noticed he was holding an AR-15 and had a handgun on his hip. They later learned that both firearms were fully loaded.

Three deputies started shooting at Neely, hitting him multiple times in both legs and in the groin, Judd said.

Investigators later found that Neely had started setting fires in Tampa earlier that morning, Judd said. Working with the Tampa Police Department, Judd said investigators discovered that Neely went to a Ritz hotel where he set an air conditioning unit on fire just before 2:45 a.m. There were about 1,000 people inside the building at the time, according to Judd.

Then, just after 3:30 a.m., he went to a residence where he tried to set a fence and a tree on fire, before going to a restaurant and setting a trash fire, Judd said.

He later went to Lakeland, about 35 miles east of Tampa, where he began bombing the family’s house with Molotov cocktails, Judd said.

Detectives discovered that Neely had been “passively, occasionally stalking” his former classmate who lived inside the house, Judd said.

Neely, who is in custody at a hospital, faces multiple charges, including three counts of attempted first-degree murder, one count of arson, seven counts of firebombing and one count of resisting arrest, Judd said.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the deputies’ use of force, according to the sheriff’s office.

©2022 The Charlotte Observer. Visit charlotteobserver.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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