July 1, 2014
Residents Reflect On Recent FBI Manhunt, Charges For Valrico ‘Prepper’
By Tamas Mondovics
FBI agents searching for weapons and explosives in any neighborhood is not something residents experience too often. So, the news of federal agents seeking to serve a search warrant and question long-time Valrico resident 55-year-old Martin Winters on such charges—not to mention the subsequent two-day, FBI manhunt that followed—stirred the emotions of his friends and family as well as his neighbors living near Lithia Pinecrest Rd. across Lithia Springs Elementary School in Valrico.
“He is not dangerous at all,” said Winters’ youngest daughter, Tracy during a recent candlelight vigil for her father that drew dozens of supporters.
Today Winters has been dubbed a ‘Doomsday Prepper’ and is in jail, due back in court on Thursday, July 17, after he ended the law enforcement and media frenzy by turning himself into the FBI Tampa field office.
Agents told reporters that Winters showed up in front of the reception area wet and hungry, represented by his attorney and his daughter. According to FBI and local law enforcement, the chase for Winters began when he was approached by law enforcement officials while in his vehicle on Cheryl Ct. in Plant City.
Upon seeing the officials, Winters reportedly first fled the scene in his car at a high rate of speed. After a short time he abandoned his car, which appeared to have become overheated, and fled on foot into a wooded area where the search for him continued for the following two days. Winter’s daughters told reporters that the reason he bolted from the FBI was to protect his two teenage grandchildren who were in his pickup truck with him.
During the manhunt, Courvertier told reporters that Winters was a skilled survivalist and could be anywhere, while added that he may be armed and could be helped by his many supporters.
“Out of caution, we have to believe that he is armed,” Courvertier said. “He may have found weapons or someone could have brought weapons to him.”
How much of all of the FBI’s cautions were true or factual remains to be seen.
Surrendering himself was not enough for the judge to let Winters back into the community, which prompted many to speak out in his behalf, including Winters’ three daughters who want to let people know about a loving side of their dad.
While in court the judge called Winters a danger to the community, but Tracy and her sisters said their dad and the entire incident “is just a misunderstanding.”
“He is only preparing for if days were to come when there is no grocery stores and needed food, and couldn’t get it. It’s not like he was preparing to hurt anyone,” Tracy said.