Manatee County Sheriff's Office

Deputy Couldn't Rescue Family From a Burning Car, So He Shot It With His Gun

An off-duty deputy gets creative to rescue Florida couple from a burning car. 

It started like a normal Sunday for Manatee County Sheriff's Deputy Willie Finklea and his wife. The Florida couple had ridden their motorcycle to church and were ready for a leisurely cruise. They stopped at a gas station after church for a quick drink and decided to take a different route home than they typically follow.

Those two actions would prove very timely as it put them in the right place at the right time on Moccasin Wallow Road where they soon came across a vehicle fire.

The off-duty officer sprung into action. Upon arrival, Finklea realized the electronic locks were not working, which had trapped an elderly couple, Niel and Claudia Cook, in the flaming vehicle.

While Neil continued to use his cane in an attempt to break his window, Finklea decided to go another route. He drew his off-duty firearm and fired low into a rear window, shattering it and allowing for him to enter the vehicle.

While his wife called 911, Finklea was able to free the couple from the car, which quickly engulfed in flames.

After the incident, Deputy Finklea told reporters he would be purchasing a window breaking tool for his wife, daughter and himself. Officers carry such a tool in their service vehicle, but he did not have one with him while off duty.

Finklea has responded to many incidents with vehicle fires and accidents while on duty. Even so, this incident was shocking for the Manatee County officer.

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