TAMPA, Fla. -- A U.S. Navy veteran described by his family as legally blind was shot and killed early Tuesday morning by three Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies who say they found him wielding a knife and trying to break into an occupied apartment in Brandon.
Deputies said the man, identified as Lew Tyree II, 41, 3219 Bloomingdale Villas Court, had burned his clothes and slashed a cat with a large butcher knife before charging deputies with the knife in one hand and a 20-pound barbell weight in the other.
The incident has left Tyree's families wondering what went wrong in the man's life and why deputies were forced to shoot him.
"The three (deputies) shot simultaneously at one man with a knife and barbell," said Tyree's father, Lew Tyree Sr., speaking from his home in Charleston, W.Va. "Why did they have to shoot him, to kill him? That's the question I have. Could he even see what he was doing?"
A few years ago, he said, his son lost his vision and was declared legally blind, leading to repeated bouts with depression.
"He was out of work and that caused problems in his home life," Tyree's father said.
Lew Tryree II separated from and his wife, Kathryn, who on Aug. 6 filed for an injunction for protection, according to court records, saying Tyree had threatened her, her friends and family.
She said in the document that he had called her and made the threats, saying she "had no business on earth if it wasn't as his wife."
She asked for a judge's order forcing her estranged husband into counseling, but the petition was denied a day later by a judge who said the threats were not a basis for an injunction.
Kathryn Tyree could not be reached for comment.
Tyree's vision issues was to blame for most of his recent problems, said his father.
"He was frustrated not being able to do what others could do," Tyree Sr., said. "He couldn't go out and throw the football with his son. He couldn't do things other 41-year-old men could do."
The death left the large family in West Virginia grief stricken, the father said
"I'm wondering why so much force was used," Tyree Sr. said. "There were three police officers there to take a man down. I understand there was a knife and a barbell. But they had weapons. There are places on a man's body they could have disabled him. Is this the only way they could have subdued my son? I want to hear more about why they had to shoot him."
He said his son was fighting through the depression and his life appeared to be improving.
"He was looking at some new ideas for jobs and he had a number of resources to help him. He was trying to find his way back, and he was doing a pretty good job of it.
"He was a son who I have fond memories of and I'm very proud of all he tried to do," Tyree Sr. said. "I'm very mindful he made some mistakes, too."
His son had some run-ins with the law, "but he was very remorseful about those," the elder Tyree said. "He wanted to live and do things the right way."
Deputies were called to the neighborhood before dawn to investigate reports that a man had stabbed a cat and was running around the residential streets with a knife. Deputies Steve Gutierrez, a six-year veteran; Marina Stroud, who has four years with the department; and James Maiello, with the sheriff's office since 2011, arrived to find Tyree trying to break a window of an apartment, located about a block away from his home.
"They tried to calm him and then tried to tase him, but that was unsuccessful," said sheriff's spokeswoman Cristal Bermudez Nunez. "At that point, the 5-foot-11, 180 pound Tyree turned around and was about five feet away from the deputies. He was not listening to commands and he was armed with a large butcher knife and threatened the deputies.
"They opened fire," she said. "I don't have how many, but numerous shots were fired."
Gutierrez, 35; Stroud, 34; and Maiello, 25, were not injured, she said. They were placed on administrative leave, which is standard procedure following an incident such as this.
Tyree was taken to Brandon Regional Hospital, where he was pronounced dead about an hour after the 5:37 a.m. shooting.
Bermudez Nunez said someone reported seeing Tyree stab the cat. She said the injured animal ran off and had not been located by late Tuesday afternoon, though county animal services workers did search the neighborhood.
Law enforcement and court records show Tyree was arrested in May 2011 and charged with domestic violence and obstruction of justice. Two days later, he was arrested again, charged with two counts of battery, public nudity and obstruction.
In July 2011, he pleaded no contest to the battery counts; the other charges were dismissed. He was placed on probation but violated his probation in 2013, court records show.
He was scheduled to appear in Hillsborough County court on March 12 for a probation hearing.
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