The man who is accused of striking a Marion County sheriff’s deputy with his car early Sunday morning and then fleeing from him is a former standout basketball player at Leesburg High School.
Joe Toolie III, 24, who was arrested by Lake County deputies after a sheriff’s K-9 tracked him to his house at 215 Bisby St. in Leesburg, was a 6-foot-3-inch junior point guard with an extremely promising future on the Leesburg team that won the Class 4A state championship in March 2011. He was named Class 4A Player of the Year and was among six finalists for the Mr. Basketball Award, which goes to the state’s top high school player. And he was the state tourney’s Most Valuable Player and a member of the All-Tournament team.
Toolie, who averaged 12.8 points and three assists per game, led the Yellow Jackets to a 28-4 record that season. He hit 66 percent of his shots in the championship game against Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons and was the true leader of the squad that brought home Leesburg High School’s first state title since 1977.
During his senior year in 2012, Leesburg fell to Miami Norland in the Class 6A finals in Lakeland. But Toolie was chosen as a repeat all-state player on the Class 6A honor squad and appeared headed for a successful college basketball career at Daytona State College.
It’s unclear if Toolie ever attended the college, but a series of arrests and jail time that followed his high school basketball career paint a much different picture for the star athlete. In Feb. 2013, he was arrested for marijuana possession and driving with a suspended or revoked license. And in April 2015, he was charged with attempted murder, armed robbery with a firearm and shooting into an occupied vehicle and held on $110,000 bond.
In January 2016, he was charged with burglary of an occupied dwelling, larceny/grand theft and criminal mischief. In June 2016, he faced multiple charges regarding possession and sale of cocaine, as well as trespassing and petit theft. And in October of that year, he was again arrested on the same charges.
This past Sunday’s early-morning incident started when Marion County sheriff’s Deputy Christopher Witte made contact with Toolie in the parking lot of the Circle K located at 13873 SE Highway 25, at the intersection with County Road 42. Witte was told by a store clerk that Toolie had been parked in front of the store for 30-45 minutes “and appeared to be unresponsive,” a sheriff’s office report states.
During the encounter, Toolie put his vehicle in reverse and fled from the mini-mart parking, striking Witte and “almost running him over,” the report says, adding that Witte initiated a pursuit that quickly led into Lake County.
During the pursuit, Toolie turned his vehicle’s lights off while reaching high speeds, causing Witte to lose sight of him. But Lake County sheriff’s deputies spotted the vehicle, attempted to conduct a traffic stop and initiated another pursuit, the report says.
Toolie eventually abandoned his vehicle and fled on foot. A short time later, after the use of a sheriffs’ K-9 to track him and Witte positively identifying Toolie as the suspect, he was brought into custody.
Before being transported to the Lake County Jail, Toolie denied on camera that he was involved in the incident. He was then charged with aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer, felony fleeing and eluding, giving a false name to a law enforcement officer, possession of cocaine with intent to sell, possession of heroin with intent to sell and possession of marijuana with intent to sell. He also was charged with violating his probation on four other drug charges and is being held on $45,500 bond, with a scheduled court appearance of Nov. 13 at 8:30 a.m.