JURY VERDICT: Lake Wales man who shot at helicopter, stole three vehicles to receive life

Wesley Grace led law enforcement on a three-day manhunt from Lake Wales to Haines City before he was finally apprehended.

Wesley Grace

Grace fired five rounds at a Sheriff’s Office helicopter, stole three vehicles, assaulted three people, burglarized a home, and led law enforcement on a high speed chase, racking up more than 10 charges.

After a week-long trial, a jury convicted Grace on May 11 of the following 14 charges: attempted first degree murder of a law enforcement officer while armed with a firearm, three counts of grand theft of a motor vehicle, two counts of aggravated assault with a firearm, two counts of burglary of a conveyance, burglary of a conveyance with an assault or battery while armed with a firearm, burglary of a dwelling, armed trespass, grand theft of $300 or more, fleeing or attempting to elude, and resisting officers without violence.

He is facing mandatory life in prison and will have his sentence imposed July 5.

Assistant State Attorney Michael Nutter prosecuted the case and told jurors Grace’s violent crime spree began on June 23, 2016 when he stole a dump truck that was hauling an excavator.

“I’m taking your truck, and there’s nothing you can do about it,” Grace said while armed with a semiautomatic pistol.

Two workers, Larry Cothern and Travis Pellico, attempted to follow Grace in their truck. When they got close to the stolen dump truck, Grace stopped the vehicle and reversed it into the workers’ truck.

Cothern ran to the driver’s side of the dump truck, and Grace pulled out his pistol and pointed it in his face. As Cothern retreated, Grace pointed the gun at Pellico as he pulled away in the dump truck.

Grace was last seen by the workers heading toward Lake Wales on State Road 60.

A Polk County Sheriff’s Office helicopter and Lake Wales Police Officers located Grace driving the stolen dump truck on State Road 60 in Lake Wales. The officers were able to follow Grace as he drove the dump truck and excavator into the orange groves, where it got stuck in the soft sand.

Grace exited the vehicle and fled on foot, firing two rounds from his pistol at the helicopter above him. He ran past another eight rows of orange trees before he stopped to take deliberate aim and fire three more shots at the helicopter.

Law enforcement then lost sight of Grace and set up a perimeter around the orange groves. They combed the area for eight hours but were unable to locate him.

The next morning, a fuel truck was reported stolen.  On June 25, Grace was spotted on Saddlewood Boulevard in North Lakeland wielding an assault rifle.

The stolen fuel truck was located nearby. Law enforcement responded to Saddlewood Boulevard, but Grace saw them coming and fled from the area on foot.

Grace ran through the woods until he reached the property of Renata Walker.

Walker knew law enforcement was looking for Grace in the area, so when she saw a man covered in mud standing in her pole barn, she ran inside and called 911. While walker was on the phone, Grace stole her brand new truck.

Grace was then spotted driving over 100 MPH on Highway 27 in Haines City.  Members of PCSO and Lake Hamilton Police Department initiated a pursuit.

Grace fled down Highway 27 before turning on to State Road 544, eventually ending up on Bannon Island Loop Road in Haines City.  Members of law enforcement continued to pursue the truck until OnStar disabled it.

Once the truck was deactivated, Grace was observed exiting the GMC pickup and fleeing into the orange groves located near Bannon Island Loop Road.  Grace continued to run until he emerged on the property of an elderly couple on White Clay Pit Road.

A PCSO K-9 officer saw Grace running across the pasture and released his dog. Grace was apprehended by the police K-9 and was able to be taken safely into custody.

At trial, the defense argued there was not enough evidence to identify Grace as the person who committed all of the crimes.

Nutter reminded the jury that multiple eyewitnesses from each scene were able to describe him. Grace’s DNA was also found on a high-capacity rifle magazine that was found inside the stolen dump truck.

In Grace’s interviews with law enforcement, he admitted to stealing and driving all three vehicles. He claimed the reason for his violent actions was because he believed PCSO had a “shoot-to-kill warrant” on him because a warrant for his arrest had been issued for a home invasion and burglary he committed on June 12, 2016.

Grace was convicted of those charges in April of 2017 and was sentenced to life in prison. Once the sentence from last week’s trial is imposed on July 5, Grace will have received two life sentences.