The search for a 24-year-old man accused of a violent crime spree ended Friday afternoon in a dramatic pursuit through Hillsborough County.
Around noon, authorities began pursuing a stolen vehicle along U.S. 301. The sheriff's office later confirmed the driver was Charlie Christopher Bates, the man accused of carrying out several violent crimes north of USF.
Bates led authorities southbound onto U.S. 301 in an orange car. He was initially chased by unmarked officers.
As authorities began a more aggressive pursuit, Bates allegedly fired gunshots backwards from the vehicle. He lost control just north of the I-4 crossing, crashing in front of a Waffle House, and then exchanged more gunfire with officers.
"There was a large amount of gunfire that was exchanged between the suspect and law enforcement officers," Sheriff David Gee said.
Both officers were shielding themselves inside the vehicle and walked out OK. Moments later, several officers swarmed the vehicle – guns drawn.
Bates was hit several times, pulled from the vehicle, and rushed from the scene by EMS personnel. Deputies say he died from his injuries; no officers were hurt.
Law enforcement had flooded the scene around U.S. 301 – an end to an extensive air and ground search overnight.
Bates' alleged crime spree started around 11 p.m. Thursday at the Cambridge Woods Apartment, which is just north of USF, where the sheriff's office says he carried out the first of several violent home invasions.
Deputies say a group of people were watching Thursday night's football game in an apartment when Bates entered the residence.
He tied up the men, held them at gunpoint, and raped four women inside, deputies say. In another incident, deputies say he broke into a woman's apartment at the nearby Eagles Point, but left without harming her because she began "praying and citing Biblical scripture," according to a release from police.
In a third incident, Bates apparently entered a party at the Oaks Apartments where there were about 25 people at a party. The sheriff's office says he forced them all into a bedroom, held them at gunpoint, and even fired shots.
"I was very sure that some of us in the room were going to die," recalled Saisuweis Syed, who said he was one of the victims. "I thought he was going to kill one, maybe three of us."
There were no reported injuries in that incident. Bates is also suspected of shooting at another person who was walking in the apartment complex. They were unharmed.
All of these apartments are in the general area of each other along 42nd Street, which runs just north of Fletcher. A deputy was near there and heard gunshots, Gee said.
"They gave chase, and we've been searching for him ever since all morning long," Gee said earlier at a press conference.
Their search carried them through the Tampa Palms area, where authorities spent the morning looking through the woods along Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
Their efforts quickly shifted to the pursuit of Bates in the orange vehicle around lunchtime.
Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor said they also connected Bates to two other previous home invasions and assaults. Investigators are also looking into claims Bates apparently made to some of his victims -- that he had killed someone earlier.
Detectives found a cell phone that they initially thought might have belonged to the possible murder victim, but they later determined that was not the case.