Florida Deputy Loses Two Fingers After Suspect's Homemade Firearm Explodes

A sheriff's deputy in Florida who was trying to disarm a suspect of a homemade improvised firearm lost two of his fingers when the device exploded.

Polk County Sheriff's Deputy Eric Lawes, 33, suffered serious but non-life-threatening injuries while dealing with 39-year-old suspect Marco Antonio Tolentino outside a motel in Dundee on Sunday, August 8.

Tolentino is accused of possession of a homemade firearm known as a zip gun, which consists of two interlocking pieces of metal pipe that hold a single shotgun shell. When pressed together, the device is designed to fire a single projectile, in this case a 12-gauge shotgun buckshot round.

The officer lost his fingers while tussling with the suspect in order to retrieve the device, causing it to fall apart and explode.

Deputies were originally called to reports of a disturbance at the Economy Motor Lodge and then directed to a woman who was sitting on a bench at the neighboring motel, the Monticello Motel.

While speaking to the woman, Lawes spotted a man who was riding a bicycle without a light on.

In a press conference discussing the "different kind of officer involved shooting," Sheriff Grady Judd said Tolentino started acting suspiciously while Lawes was speaking to him, including providing him with different names with "inappropriate" spellings.

Lawes asked the suspect if he had any weapons on him, at which point he lifted his shirt and revealed a metal pipe in his pocket laced through his belt.

The deputy then reached for the device, causing the suspect to also attempt to retrieve it from his pocket.

"The deputy thinks he's just dealing with a metal pipe. And in fact, what he was dealing with was a homemade or improvised firearm," Sheriff Judd said.

"When he grabbed it with his left hand to prevent Tolentino from pulling it out on him and Tolentino grabbed it, then it exploded and it went through the deputy's left hand.

"Sorry to report to you that the deputy has lost two fingers as a result of that: his index finger and his middle finger."

Both Tolentino and Lawes were taken to hospital for non-life-threatening injuries and are currently in a stable condition. Judd confirmed that Lawes should be able to return to duty once he is fully recovered.

Tolentino later told deputies that he carried the device for self-defense and learned how to make it by watching videos online. The Polk County Sheriff's Office confirmed that Talentino does not have a concealed carry license.

Judd said the incident between Lawes and the suspect may have been a lot worse as the explosion "could have blown both of their heads off."

The sheriff added: "I mean, they were struggling because it was in his pocket and it was pointing upwards. So as they were fighting and struggling, it was right in both of their faces.

"I just think the good Lord was looking out for both of them last night, that could have gone so bad."

Tolentino has been charged with charged attempted felony murder, possessing or discharging a destructive device, resisting an officer with violence, carrying a concealed weapon/firearm and providing false info to a law enforcement officer.

polk county deputy fingers
The deputy was injured after suspect Marco Antonio Tolentino's device exploded while the pair were gabbing at it. Polk County Sheriff's Office