[PHOTO CREDITS: Bonnie Whicher ]
[Original Publish Date: 12/22/19]
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EUSTIS, Florida — Eustis Police Captain Gary Winheim is grateful to be alive and grateful to the community he serves.
“I am humbled by the outpouring of support from the community. [I have] enormous respect for all the fire, medical and law enforcement professionals in the incident. Our community is truly strong.”
Just two days after being shot in the neck by an ex-con with a violent history, Winheim, his wife, Stephenie, and their beloved dog Laike sat down in their home with Lake Legal News for an exclusive interview Saturday. “This is my story,” Winheim said. “And I want my story to be told by me.”
Sporting bandages on his ear, neck and back, Winheim, 49, a 24-year veteran of Eustis Police Department is doing well after having surgery to remove the 9mm bullet that clipped his earlobe, entered his neck and travelled slightly down his back. Doctors at Orlando Regional Medical successfully removed the bullet Friday and he was released from the hospital. He is expected to make a full recovery.
Thursday, around noon, Winheim was in full uniform and in his unmarked truck— a truck well-known in the community to be driven by Winheim— at the traffic light at County Road 44 and State Road 19 when he heard gunshots coming from the area of a small mechanic shop, a Shell gas station and a Winn Dixie. Winheim’s wife, Stephenie, a former ICU nurse, was on the phone with him when he heard the shots. “I was not responding to a burglary call or a robbery call. I was not responding to any call. I was minding my own business,” the captain expains to LLN.
The Shell station at 1905 North State Road 19 in Eustis, Florida, was held up by an armed robber Tuesday evening and EPD was working on getting a warrant for the suspect’s arrest Thursday morning.
Winheim, a 12-year SWAT team member, saw a dark-colored SUV leaving the parking lot of the Winn Dixie driving erratically and he began to follow it. Winheim followed the SUV eastbound down County Road 44, when it suddenly pulled over near Trout Lake Nature Center. Winheim pulled over too. At this point, Winheim did not know he was following Jayson Colvin, the man suspected of robbing Shell. “I had no idea who he was,” Winheim said. “No clue.” As captain over the Criminal Investigations Division, Winheim was familiar with the investigation and where that investigation was, but it never entered his mind that he might be following Colvin, he tells LLN. “We firmly believed he had left town.”
“I firmly believe he knew who I was because he has history in this county,” Winheim said. Colvin, who has a criminal history in Lake County dating back to 1998, was arrested by EPD in March for resisting without violence, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia and again in April for resisting without violence. All the charges from the March case were dropped; he was sentenced to probation and given a fine in the April case.
“I was catching up to him and he pulled over,” Winheim relates. He did not know why the SUV stopped because he had not activated his emergency lights. He was not sure if the driver needed assistance, or if he was pulling over for sinister reasons. “All the scenarios that you’re going through—‘Is he hurt, was he just shot at, does he have somebody in the truck who’s hurt, or was just shot at?’” In addition to wondering if the man needed assistance, Winheim also wondered about his own safety. “Is he flagging me down because he needs assistance or does he have bad intent right now? This is how it processes for law enforcement; all of the bad things that could be happening to them that we need to help them with, or all of the bad things that they’re intending to do to us. You have all that processing through your head,” Winheim tells LLN.
“He (Colvin) jumps out, immediately raises the gun and starts firing at me. It’s an ambush,” Winheim recalls thinking. Winheim was still sitting in his truck when he took fire; he never got the chance to get out, or to grab his gun.
Colvin fired multiple shots (the exact number has not been released, as it is part of the still-active investigation) striking Winheim once, through the windshield of his truck.
“So when he jumped out and started shooting at me, I had no idea what was going on at that point. When he started popping off rounds and I got hit in the neck and I knew I was hit in the neck, it stunned me.” Winheim tried to lie down over the seat, but his truck has a large center console and he could not get low enough, “So I caught the round in the neck.”
When asked what was going through his head once he realized he was being shot at, Winheim said he thought to himself, “I’m in a really bad spot.”
“We can train for a whole bunch of tactical scenarios. You cannot train for an ambush. An ambush is an ambush. The only thing about an ambush is you can train to fight through an ambush.”
Colvin fled and Winheim bailed out, ran to the back of his truck and thought to himself, “This is not where I end.” At that point, his main concern was blood loss. A vehicle pulled in behind Winheim during the shooting and Winheim ran to it. The driver rolled down the window and said, “I’m on the phone with 9-1-1.” Winheim responded, “Ma’am, I am 9-1-1. I’ve already called them.” He asked her how bad he was bleeding and she gave him her jacket and put it against his neck and held pressure to his wound.
EPD Senior Officer Wayne Perry Sr. was the first to arrive and was getting his med kit as EPD Sergeant Dan Post arrived and Winheim said “Dan, give me your med kit,” and Post replied, “I brought a fire truck.” “Love me some Dan Post,” Winheim says. “He’s awesome.”
Winheim likes to give the fire department a hard time. “I mess with firefighters horribly,” he adds with a grin. “The old police-fire thing. I am ruthless with the fire department.” But Winheim teases them affectionately, “I truly do love those guys and appreciate the job they do.”
A firefighter Winheim has known for many years treated him, and Winheim looked at him and said, “Do not let me die.” And he said, “Oh, I’m not letting you die; you’re not going anywhere.” Winheim responded, “Great! Take care of me. I’m getting through this. I’m not done yet.” The firefighter said, “No, you’re not done yet. You’re getting through this.”
Always the jokester, even in a crisis, Winheim said, “And I want everybody here to know, all those jokes I made, I was just kidding.”
Colvin fled to Umatilla and crashed near Cookie’s Junkyard & Towing, 19813 County Road 450, bailed and ran into a wooded area. More than 500 law enforcement officers responded to the search scene from local, state, and federal agencies, Lake County Sheriff Peyton Grinnell said in a press conference Thursday.
After nearly seven hours of searching, a helicopter pilot from the Marion County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) Aviation Unit spotted Colvin hiding under a canoe, along the shoreline of a small lake. The pilot saw him take position in an aggressive manner. Colvin refused to comply with deputies’ orders and was shot and killed.
Stephenie Winheim, now a Realtor, was home when she found out her husband was shot and Winheim called her himself. “Damn right, I did, That’s my wife.” He said, “Baby, I want you to know I’m OK. I’ve been shot. And I love you.” Choking back tears, he recalled, “I told her I was not gonna die and I was not leaving her.”
Since they’ve been together, Captain Winheim has been involved in three other shootings prior to Thursday’s shooting, “I definitely didn’t react the same way to this one as I reacted to the first one,” she tells LLN. “I worked in ICU, it’s high stress level. We see a lot of things; we’re good compartmentalizers. You can’t freak out— you have to deal with what’s going on.”
The shooting was just one week after the pair celebrated their seventh anniversary. They were married on December 12, 2012, (12-12-12) and dated for five years prior to getting married. They travelled to Nashville, Tennessee, to celebrate their anniversary and returned just three days before the shooting.
The love the two share for each other is obvious. Each one choked back tears several times while talking with LLN. They speak in unison, finish each other’s sentences and complement each other’s personalities. They both told LLN that they are best friends.
Notably, the couple taught a section at EPD’s in-service training program to help teach spouses how to cope with the aftermath of serious incidents. “Almost 24 years with Eustis, almost 12 years as a SWAT operator; I’m an active shooter instructor, reality-based training. I’ve been really fortunate in my career to have attended a lot of training classes and a lot of firearms-related training classes. I consider myself a tactical guy,” the captain states.
Captain Winheim tells LLN that he thinks law enforcement is excellent at training, and he has seen it get better and better over his career, but there are still some flaws. “We are awesome at training right up to the point of pulling the trigger. We don’t teach our officers what happens afterward. We don’t teach officers about the media coming and asking them questions and getting on their Facebook to find things out,” he explains to LLN.
“There are law enforcement officers who believe, ‘Don’t include your spouse in your work. Don’t burden your spouse with your work. Don’t bring your work home,’” Winheim notes, but he disagrees. “If you don’t inoculate your spouse to what you do, prior to an event like this, how do you expect your spouse to get through an event like this? The body can’t go where the mind hasn’t been.”
Our Editor-in-Chief, Marilyn M. Aciego, began writing for Lake Legal News in 2010. In addition, she has made more than two dozen appearances on live national television, including Nancy Grace and the Greta Van Susteren show, along with her appearance on Evil Twins. Contact her with breaking news, tips, and feedback by sending an e-mail to 352Tips@gmail.com. You can also contact us on our Facebook page — and make sure you “Like” and “Follow us” there. [PHOTO CREDIT: Bonnie Whicher]