‘Erratic’ driver fatally shot after crashing van onto Florida art school campus

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Police in South Florida fatally shot a “violent erratic suspect” who crashed through the gates of an art school on Friday, authorities said.

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Update 7:52 a.m. EDT May 14: The driver was identified late Friday as Romen Phelps, 33, of Palm Beach Gardens, the Sun-Sentinel reported, citing a West Palm Beach Police Department release.

Original report: The incident began at around 12 p.m. EDT, when authorities received calls about a man driving a van erratically the wrong way near the Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts campus in downtown West Palm Beach, WPTV reported.

According to police, the driver crashed through the school’s locked gates and hit a palm tree, the Sun-Sentinel reported. The driver also just missed striking a maintenance worker who was driving a golf cart at the school, according to the newspaper.

Police said the man ran into Building 7, which houses the school auditorium, and confronted officers and school staff members, WPEC-TV reported.

“At that time, there was a struggle,” West Palm Beach police spokesman Mike Jachles said during a news conference. “There was some type of fight that ensued between the officer, school staff and the suspect. A West Palm Beach police officer discharged his weapon, striking the suspect.”

Building 7 includes an auditorium in the front and classrooms in the back, the Sun-Sentinel reported. No students were in the auditorium, but they were in other parts of the building, Jachles said.

The man was pronounced dead at the scene, WPTV reported. His name and the identity of the officer who fired the fatal shot have not been released.

Students and staff members remained safe but under a lockdown, the Sun-Sentinel reported. A staggered dismissal plan was in effect, according to the School District of Palm Beach County.

“I visited with the students and everyone’s calm and collected at this point,” Michael Burke, superintendent of the School District of Palm Beach County, told the Sun-Sentinel.

It was unclear why West Palm Beach police officers were tracking the van’s driver and why the person was shot, according to the newspaper. Jachles said he did not know how many shots were fired or whether the man had a weapon.

“But what I can tell you is, an intruder on a school campus crashing through gates, running around an active school campus and acting erratically, will be dealt with appropriately,” Jachles told reporters.

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