A Jacksonville fire captain and firefighter were stabbed Tuesday night just blocks from UF Health after a patient under transport attacked them in the back of their rescue unit.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to correct security guard Davay Kinsey's name.
Two veteran firefighters are recuperating after a patient slashed them with a box cutter Tuesday night as they were transporting him to the hospital, according to acting Jacksonville Fire Chief Keith Powers.
The 10 p.m. attack left Capt. Latorrence Norris hospitalized and engineer Vincent Harper treated for a lacerated leg, yet both were able to subdue the 38-year-old suspect with help from arriving officers, the chief said at briefing Wednesday.
Tony Bernard Harris was charged with two counts of aggravated battery against a firefighter as well as resisting an officer without violence.
The attack occurred so close to UF Health that one of its security guards was able to help avoid what Powers called "a terrible outcome."
The incident started like any usual rescue unit run, with Norris and Harper sent to the 800 block of Franklin Street to help Harris with back pain, Powers said. The patient was very calm initially, with no indication of a problem, the chief said. But as Harper, a 10-year veteran, drove to the hospital, things quickly changed in the back of the unit.
"The patient got off the stretcher and lunged at Norris," Powers said. "In the ensuing struggle, the patient took the box cutter Norris had in his pocket and began to stab and cut Capt. Norris ... in the upper chest and abdominal area."
Norris, with the department since 2006, suffered a punctured lung and other injuries as he wrestled with Harris, Powers said. As they got to the 2000 block of Boulevard Street en route to the emergency room, Harper heard the fight in back and stopped. He threw himself "in harm's way" to help, suffering a deep gash on his right thigh before police arrived to fully subdue their attacker, Powers said.
That's when security guard Davay Kinsey said she got a radio call that firefighters were under attack near the hospital and responded to see if she could help. When the 39-year-old guard rolled up, she quickly got the fire captain into her golf cart.
"Based off what his injuries looked like, I knew it was very important to get him out of there," said Kinsey, who has worked at the hospital for almost 10 years. "Everybody was blocked in by the responding police units and I was the only one who had the clear way to go. It was just a matter of reaction and making it happen."
"This decision was paramount in getting the rapid treatment Capt. Norris needed to save his life," Powers said. "Norris arrived in the trauma center with a collapsed lung and substantial blood loss which resulted in dangerously low blood pressure."
Harper was treated and released, while Norris was in intensive care but was already sitting up when the noon briefing was being conducted Wednesday, Jacksonville fire union President Randy Wyse said.
"We encounter violent situations every day and can normally control it," Wyse said. "This is a very odd situation that rarely happens, but their training, professionalism and will to live basically got them out of that. Vincent was quick enough to stop and help. That really evened things up."
An angry Mayor Lenny Curry said he learned of the attack right after it happened Tuesday night.
"The idea that we have men and women that go out and protect us every day and are in a situation where they are trying to save lives and care for people, then one of them almost lost their life and another was stabbed, is just outrageous," Curry said.
Kinsey met with Norris in his hospital room Wednesday afternoon, saying it was very emotional.
"It was a very humbling experience," she admitted. "Some tears were shed, a lot of tears."
Harris has 10 arrests in Jacksonville, including a child-abuse conviction in which he served six years in prison until his release in April 2018.
Dan Scanlan: (904) 359-4549