Accused arsonist armed with AR-15, handgun shot by deputies on I-4 following chase

Traffic came to a standstill on I-4 Sunday morning after an armed arson suspect was shot by deputies on I-4 near Dinosaur World. 

According to Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, a 911 call came into the agency shortly before 8:15 a.m. about a man throwing Molotov cocktails onto the roof of a Lakeland home.

The first deputy to arrive says he saw Luke Neely, 30, throw one of seven Molotov cocktails. He says two exploded on the house and the others rolled down and ignited the yard.

The deputy commanded Neely to stop, but he jumped in his car and fled the scene.


An incident has closed a portion of I4 near Dinosaur World. 

According to PCSO, the deputy gave chase and performed two pit maneuvers to stop Neely. Neely drove out of the first attempt and the deputy broke his hand during the second try.

Neely continued down Highway 98 in Polk County and eventually got on I-4 westbound toward Hillsborough County.

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Once he got west of the county line, Polk deputies did another pit maneuver and caused Neely to crash.


Polk deputies used a pit maneuver to stop Neely as he fled from deputies down I4.

After the crash, Sheriff Judd says Neely got out of his vehicle and started running toward a T-Rex at Dinosaur World.

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According to Judd, Neely was armed with an AR-15 with 57 rounds of ammunition. Judd says Neely also had a fully-loaded handgun on his hip.


An image of one of the two guns Neely had on him that were fully loaded. Image is courtesy of the Polk County Sheriff's Office. 

Three deputies opened fire at Neely when he began to run, striking him twice in the right leg, once in the left leg and once in the groin.

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"We changed the looks of his groin forever if you know what I mean," Judd said.


Mugshot of Luke Neely provided by the Polk County Sheriff's Office. 

Unbeknownst to the Polk County deputies during the time of the pursuit, Tampa police were investigating several fires that were lit early Sunday morning in Ybor City.

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Judd says Neely is accused of trying to set fire to a tree around 2:40 a.m. According to Judd, the suspected arsonist then went to the Ritz in Ybor City where he tried to set the hotel’s air conditioning unit on fire. Judd said there were about 1,000 people inside at the time.

After leaving the Ritz, Judd says Neely tried to set a tree and a fence on fire, before starting a trash fire at Gaspar’s Grotto.

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He’s been charged with 3 counts of attempted first-degree murder, arson, 7 counts of firebombing and one count of resisting arrest. More charges from Hillsborough County are pending.


There was a large law enforcement presence on I4 near Dinosaur World. 

Judd said that Neely went to high school with the adult daughter who was in the Lakeland home with her parents when he threw the Molotov cocktails on the roof. Judd said the woman was not close with Neely and the two were never romantically involved. 

According to Judd, the last time the woman saw Neely was six years ago when a group of friends went to California. Judd says the woman told him that Neely was being weird on the trip and she called her parents for money to change her flight, so she could get away from him.


Neely is accused of burning the roof of a Lakeland home with Molotov cocktails. Image is courtesy of the Polk County Sheriff's Office. 

Judd said the woman worked somewhere in Ybor City, though he was unsure of exactly where she was employed.

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He added that Neely lives in Polk County and his parents are not cooperating with investigators.


This is the truck deputies say Neely was driving when he is accused of setting the fires and leading deputies on a chase. Photo is courtesy of the Polk County Sheriff's Office. 

According to PCSO, Neely was arrested by the agency in 2016 and charged with disorderly conduct, using a firearm under the influence of alcohol, and resisting arrest. He was also Baker Acted by the PCSO in 2020. 

Neely is currently in custody at the hospital where he is being treated for gunshot wounds. 

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the deputy-involved shooting.