NEW PORT RICHEY, Fl.- Michael LaBue and John Cooke just moved to Florida, but just several weeks in their new home, their lives have been upended by an encounter they never expected.
“Nobody would have suspect it in this neighborhood,” said LaBue.
September 29th, he said while was in the car and Cooke was closing the garage door, a man came up to the car, pointed what he later learned was a flare gun at him, and demanded he get out of the vehicle.
“So I was fumbling with my seat belt and he shot the flare gun, well then I saw it was a flare, at the console and I didn’t realize the console was destroyed,” LaBue said.
“It was a bad situation that was unfolding and I had no way of knowing what was happening so I had to make some very fast choices,” Cooke said.
Cooke said not knowing what was happening, he found himself in a fight with the suspect in an effort to keep him from reloading the flare gun.
“Then at that point John had gotten him away pushed him to the street and screamed get out of here. And at that point he looked at me and he said let’s get back in the car and he jumped in the drivers side I got in the other side,” LaBue said.
Cooke said when they got back in the car, the suspect shot him in the ear with the flare gun.
“I had fire coming out of this ear and I screamed so loud you could have heard me the next day,” Cooke said.
Cooke, who is a massage therapist, said he suffered third degree burns to his ear and hand. He said he was released from the hospital Friday afternoon after undergoing two surgeries, but remains in significant pain and has a long road of recovery ahead.
They later learned more about the crime.
Pasco County investigators said William Gonzalez stole a bicycle, the flare gun and a kayak prior to the car jacking. Afterwards, they said he crashed into several vehicles during the pursuit. They said they arrested him for multiple thefts, battery with a flare gun, stolen vehicle and fleeing to elude.
“I think the one thing I would like people to take away from it is to be aware of your surroundings not scared of your surroundings, but be aware of what’s going on” Cooke said.
LaBue said their vehicle is totaled. But despite the cost, the pain and the recovery ahead, they remain thankful.
“I’ve never felt such an outpouring of love and I’m very grateful for that,” Cooke said.
They said afterwards, neighbors rushed to their aid and have worked to offer support through dinners and hospital visits since.
“The neighbors just rallied to the cause they’re still, I mean we are blessed to have found this house in this neighborhood. I’m not gonna let that little incident bother me anymore,” LaBue said.