Crime & Courts
Clearwater firefighter feared medical emergency before assault
Clearwater firefighter Ron Neuberger may have thought he was just responding to a routine minor traffic crash on Wednesday afternoon.
But while he said situations like this "do happen once in a while," what he experienced during the call was far from typical, and resulted in two felony charges against a Palm Harbor man.
Neuberger told reporters Thursday he was attempting to assist Gary Steven Cook, who was involved in the minor crash around 4:30 p.m. when Cook punched Neuberger in the face.
"He was kind of out of it and he started to wave his arm," Neuberger said. "I reached through with my right hand and I grabbed his arm and I said 'sir, are you OK? Is anything wrong?' "
"He said 'well, no' and he reached across with his right hand and he punched me."
Clearwater police said Cook had tried to drive off, but the two cars involved in the minor wreck were in front of him and he couldn't drive forward. Cook continued to press on the accelerator, causing the tire to burn up and it caused a hole several inches deep in the pavement.
That's when Neuberger approached Cook's car.
"It kinda took me back for a second," Neuberger said. "I reached in and grabbed his other arm, that he punched me with, and I kind of restrained him a little bit."
Neuberger said he was concerned that Cook may have been having a medical issue. But as it turns out, police charged Cook with driving under the influence and battery on a firefighter.
Cook has three prior DUI convictions, police said.