PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. -- Both men flashed the middle finger to each other as they drove in a game of chicken, one pulling in front of the other and slamming on his brakes.
The road rage that morning spilled into a post office parking lot, and a federal agent was shot dead.
James Patrick Wonder, a 65-year-old Miramar retiree, was moved to the Broward County jail Thursday afternoon on a charge of premeditated murder in the shooting death of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agent Donald Pettit. The two men didn't know each other, but live within two miles of each other and are both described by neighbors and friends as calm, pleasant people.
Police said Tuesday morning, as the two argued in the parking lot, Wonder pulled a gun from his waistband, flicked off the safety and shot Pettit in the back of the head.
Police released new information about the case at a Thursday afternoon news conference, revealing that Pettit pulled into the parking lot after Wonder had already done so. Police couldn't say why.
Investigators said Wonder admitted shooting Pettit. Police said one of several guns recovered at his home may have been used in the shooting. Wonder had a valid concealed weapons license at the time of the shooting.
Relatives at Wonder's home declined to comment Thursday. A voice over an intercom said, "Mr. Wonder isn't home right now. We aren't answering any questions."
Police said Wonder was running late Tuesday morning for treatment at the Universal Kidney Center of Davie when he and Pettit exchanged obscene gestures along Dykes Road. Deputy Chief Mike Segarra said Wonder pulled in front of Pettit and slammed on the brakes.
When they reached the post office at Pines Boulevard, Wonder pulled into the parking lot from Dykes Road. His arrest report said Pettit continued on Dykes, turned onto Pines Boulevard and then pulled into the post office parking lot. Both men got out, argued and Pettit was shot.
An anonymous Crime Stoppers tip pointed police to the dialysis center Wednesday, where they found Wonder. Segarra said Wonder had rented a car and used oil or grease to make his hair darker than normal.
When confronted by police, Wonder came without a fight and admitted to shooting Pettit, Segarra said.
In their search for the killer, police mustered more than 500 law enforcement officers and some military equipment, including Blackhawk helicopters. Traffic in Pembroke Pines and surrounding areas ground to a halt at times, with officers looking for the suspect's vehicle and handing out fliers with a sketch of the killer.
Police defended that overwhelming response, saying officers from other agencies volunteered their time unsolicited. "All we did was put out the information and they came," said Segarra. "They came in droves to assist."
Authorities insist that Pettit was on duty when he was killed but have declined to elaborate why he had his daughter with him. Jose Castellano, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said that because he was on-duty, his survivors will be able to collect special death benefits. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance, the families of public safety officers who die in the line of duty receive a check for $303,064.
Neither Wonder nor Pettit have criminal histories, according to state records. Pettit spent 20 years in the U.S. Army and 15 with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. He joined border protection in January.
Wonder's Silver Lakes neighborhood returned to normal Thursday after being locked down the previous night. Neighbors were shocked that the mild-mannered man who has been taking care of his 92-year-old mother would be accused of killing someone. A handful of visitors trickled in and out of Wonder's peach home throughout the day without commenting.
Neighbors said he was a pleasant man who kept his Dodge Charger spotless.
"He's a nice guy. He'd help people if they had problems with their cars, like their batteries," said Staci Hains, 41.
Her husband, Mark Hains, saw Wonder get his mail the day of the killing.
"You just don't know the neighbors these days," he said. "It's just shocking."
Greg Sorrells, 60, of Lake City, said he has been friends with Wonder for 35 years.
"He's a low-key, quiet guy," Sorrells said. "I've never known him to jump out at anybody or attack anybody."
He said Wonder once worked as a police officer on the FEC railroad before he started trucking. Sorrells couldn't believe his friend would get involved in a road rage incident, much less a shooting.
"I think he probably panicked, because he's never been in that situation," Sorrells said. "He would be the last one I would see in it."
Staff Researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.