Hernando armed robbery suspects may be connected to other crimes

Emergency dispatchers in Hernando County received the frantic phone 911 call about the Dollar General robbery around noon on Tuesday.

“Customers are chasing him!” said an employee.

“Ma’am, tell the customers to stop chasing him. Was he armed?” the dispatcher asked. “I can’t help it; they’ve already left!” “Was he armed?” the dispatcher asked again. “Yes, he had a gun! He had a gun!”

That 911 call started a chain of events that included an attempted citizen’s arrest of two suspects, a deadly deputy shooting of one suspect, 29-year-old Michael Hilber, and an all-night search for the second suspect, 27-year-old Derek Stephen Kelley, which ended when deputies located him Wednesday morning, near the same location where his accomplice was shot.

The two men were on the run from authorities in New Hampshire, where they each had outstanding warrants and were wanted for escaping arrest on December 2, in which Kelley allegedly dragged an officer a short distance as he hit the gas to drive off. Hilber was a passenger in the incident.  

At a Wednesday morning news conference, Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis said Hilber and Kelley may be connected with additional robberies beyond Tuesday’s Dollar General holdup. Detectives believe Hilber robbed a Sarasota Subway restaurant on Monday; surveillance video from the robbery shows the suspect wearing the same shirt Hilber wore in Tuesday’s robbery. 

Nienhuis would not provide details about why two officers used deadly force on Hilber Tuesday afternoon, but pointed to an image from Monday’s armed robbery, in which the suspect holds what appears to be a gun at an employee.

“If he did that with one of my deputies, of course they’re going to respond with deadly force,” Nienhuis said, without saying whether Hilber pointed a weapon at deputies.

HCSO said deputies Steve Miller and Matt Lillibridge both opened fire; Lillibridge fired the fatal shot. Both deputies are on standard paid leave while the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigates the shooting.

The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office also declined to say whether a gun was found on Hilber. However, late Wednesday, a spokesman for the department confirmed detectives found “what appeared to be a weapon” at the scene.

“The FDLE would have to determine its functionality,” spokesman Michael Terry told FOX 13, adding that it looked like the object seen in the Subway surveillance video. 

Citizens Chase Suspects

After receiving reports of the Dollar General robbery on Tuesday, deputies learned that one of the customers who had followed the Chevy had somehow stopped the Chevy underneath the interstate at State Road 50.

“One of the citizens was apparently able to box in or, in some way, slow the person down and actually tried to physically restrain them in their vehicle,” Nienhuis said. The suspects got away and the person received minor injuries, he said. 

“Interacting with a violent suspect is never recommended by any law enforcement organization. We’d advise against that. It’s really by the grace of God that citizen was not more seriously injured or worse yet, killed.”

A second person continued to follow the Chevy toward south central Hernando County and reported the location where the two suspects had abandoned their truck.

“Those that did follow and gave us descriptions, directions of travel and let us know where they bailed – if a citizen can do that safely, we always ask them to be our eyes and ears,” he said. “Each person has to make those decisions on their own.” 

Kelley’s Arrest

HCSO deputies conducted an all-night search for Kelley and located him mid-morning.

“We’re not sure exactly where he was hiding, but through some very low-tech and high-tech techniques, we were able to bring him into custody,” Nienhuis said.

A lieutenant who helped locate Kelley said there was evidence he was coming off of a drug binge and cooperated with deputies as he was taken into custody.

“There was no fight. He pretty much knew that his time was up and he was tired from hiding and being on the run all night,” said Lt. Anthony Piarulli. “He came out with no problem, didn’t cause us any issues and was taken into custody without issue.”