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Deputy defuses potentially deadly standoff

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PALM HARBOR – A Pinellas Sheriff’s deputy avoided shooting an armed and suicidal 76-year-old man during a standoff Christmas Eve morning, even as the distraught man pointed a rifle at him, authorities said on Thursday.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri applauded the deputy for his restraint and sensitivity in the incident.

The prolonged confrontation started around 9:40 a.m. Tuesday when Deputy John Sachse Jr. was dispatched to 4116 Salem Square Parkway, where Justin Tucker had tried to hang himself with a belt and then armed himself with a hatchet and a rifle, sherriff’s officials said.

When Sachse arrived, Tucker’s wife, Ana Escobar Tucker, 55, told him her husband was in the bedroom. Sachse looked in and saw Tucker approaching the bedroom door, waving a hatchet and pointing a rifle at the deputy, officials said.

Sachse retreated behind the front door jamb, drew his gun, and ordered Tucker to put down his weapons. Ana Tucker, meanwhile, tried to calm down her husband.

Tucker then walked out of the bedroom, threw the rifle in front of a living room chair, and, with the hatchet still in his hand, moved to the center of the living room and told Sachse to shoot him, according to a report.

Sachse, still protected behind the door jamb, repeatedly ordered Tucker to drop the hatchet. He then decided to holster his firearm and instead pulled out his electric stun gun as Tucker continued to beg to be shot and his wife continued trying to calm him,

Sachse told Ana Tucker to step away from her husband, and fired his stun gun when Tucker lowered the hatchet to the side, authorities said. Tucker fell to the ground and was handcuffed by sheriff’s deputies. He suffered minor injuries to his head, and was treated at the scene. He was transported to a local hospital for a mental-health evaluation.

Ana Tucker told deputies her husband was upset because his daughter was not visiting for Christmas.

In a prepared statement, Gualtieri praised Sachse. “This is an example of great restraint and excellent police work in dealing with a mental health issue where the outcome could have been much different,” he said.

Sachse, 54, has been with the sheriff’s office since March 17, 2004. He received Crisis Intervention Training the following year. The training is designed to teach deputies how to recognize mental health issues and to deal with them in the most effective manner, according to the sheriff’s office.

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