Jail trainee shot after corrections officer killed

ORLANDO — A Seminole County Sheriff’s Office trainee, suspected of fatally shooting his female companion, was shot and seriously injured Sunday morning by a deputy from that agency.

Jeff L. Thomas, 45, was in critical condition at Orlando Regional Medical Center, where he was airlifted after the shooting in Geneva, Seminole County sheriff’s Capt. Dennis Lemma said.

Lemma identified the dead woman as Melanie Lee, 37, a sergeant with the state Department of Corrections, working at the Central Florida Reception Center near Orlando.

Thomas and Lee had moved into a residence in Titusville within the last two weeks, Lemma said.

A deputy stopped Lee for speeding about 6 a.m. on State Road 46 in northeast Seminole County. She was driving 76 in a 45-mph zone but was issued a ticket for faulty equipment because of a broken windshield, Lemma said. At the time, Lee was wearing her state Department of Corrections clothing and was thought to be due at her job at 8 a.m., Lemma said. She explained to the deputy she was en route to pick up Thomas after his shift at the Seminole County Jail.

Lee picked up Thomas about 6:30 a.m., an hour after he got off work, Lemma said.

At some point the truck ran off the roadway on S.R. 46 between Ridge and Mullet Lake Park roads. The front of the truck was embedded into the side of a ditch, Lemma said.

Passers-by reported the two sitting on the tailgate of the truck. Then one motorist saw Thomas with a gun and saw him shoot the woman, Lemma said.

Deputies arrived on the scene and tried to start a dialogue with Thomas but were unable to, Lemma said. A supervisor using binoculars could see the woman on the ground and that Thomas was armed. At that point a decision was made to use lethal force, Lemma said.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the shooting. Details, including how many times Thomas was hit and the name of the deputy who shot him, have not been released.

Thomas was hired in May as a detention deputy trainee and worked alongside a regular deputy in the county jail, Lemma said. He previously worked five years for the state Department of Corrections.

The Medical Examiner’s Office had not yet arrived on the scene to remove Lee’s body, and S.R. 46 remained closed between Mullet Lake Park and Ridge roads.