EAST LAKE WALES, FLORIDA -- William Losh, 48, owner of a cabin on Possum Trail, in the Tiger Creek Forest community, East Lake Wales, noticed signs of burglary when he and his girlfriend, Jennifer Heller, approached the home around 11:18 Sunday morning, he said in an interview with the News Tuesday morning.
Losh said he armed himself with a .22-caliber revolver, even though he didn't really expect to find anyone inside, and slipped past the damaged screen door to search the cabin.
When Losh saw James Eugene Birk in a closet in the loft area, hiding on the floor beneath two cushions, he told Birk to "freeze and show me your hands" and instructed Heller to call police.
Birk initially complied with Losh's request, holding his hands open above him, but when he began making nervous movements and continued to glance down toward his waist area, Losh became alarmed that Birk was concealing a weapon.
Birk began talking anxiously, saying things like, "you can't hurt me with a .22" and "you might as well shoot me, because I'm not going back to jail," and moved his hands down and out of Losh's sight as he began creeping out of the closet.
The homeowner, fearful that Birk was armed and ready to shoot, fired his revolver in self-protection, according to his report on file with the Polk County Sheriff's Office.
When, after the first shot, Birk continued to move toward Losh, Losh fired two more shots. Approximately two minutes later, the first sheriff's officer deputy, Larry Roberts, and his dog, Basco, arrived on scene and took control of the situation.
An ambulance was called to transport Birk to the Lakeland Regional Medical Center, where he was treated for three gunshot wounds to his right wrist, right shoulder, and left torso area. He was treated and released into the custody of the Polk County Jail, on Monday, Oct. 8, where he was charged with burglary, property damage, and probation violation, and is being held without bond because of the latter charge.
No charges have been filed against Losh since the law allows individuals to take measures to protect themselves when in fear for their lives, said Michal Shanley, Polk County sheriff's office spokesperson.
Birk, 43, no permanent address, has a lengthy record with Polk County law enforcement, dating back to a 1992 arrest for possession of cocaine. Since then, he has been taken into custody several more times for possession of illegal drugs and paraphernalia and has been charged with numerous violations including solicitation of prostitution, grand theft auto, dealing in stolen property, credit card theft, forgery, pick-pocketing, using a false identity, scheming to defraud, and exploitation of the elderly.
His first structure burglary charge came in March of 1999 and an armed burglary charge followed in April of 1999.
Losh, still recovering from Sunday's events, said of the shooting, "It wasn't anything macho. I was scared."
He wanted to thank all officers involved, saying, "they did a fantastic job," and that he appreciates their quick response and skill in handling the situation. "The 9-1-1 system really works," he said. "That's the message I want people to hear."
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