Sheriff honors four in efforts to pursue suspect

Following a grand jury indictment last week for Jerry Carlton Keene Jr. in the murder of Marion County resident Thomas Lombardo, Putnam County Sheriff Jeff Hardy announced the recognition of three deputies and one civilian instrumental in Keene’s arrest.

Hardy presented Sgt. Kenny Roberts and deputies Joe Abbott and Michael Wells with commendation medals and David Goff with a Sheriff’s Office Citizen Appreciation Award. 

Capt. Joe Wells said the awards were presented March 30, but the announcement was delayed until after the grand jury hearing.

Hardy said Roberts, Abbott and Michael Wells displayed perseverance and “insisted in going above the call of duty” by following Keene through several miles of dense vegetation after Goff, a bridge tender for CSX, contacted the sheriff’s office after noticing a person walking on the railroad tracks.

A sheriff’s office release said the three deputies were in the area after checking on a home alarm, set off from an unsecured door.

While waiting on the homeowner to return to the residence, the deputies were able to immediately responded to the suspicious person call from Goff.

As a safety precaution, Goff raised the train trestle to dissuade the suspect from attempting to walk across the drawbridge into Palatka, the release said.

“Mr. Goff serves as an example to all citizens regarding the importance of reporting suspicious activity,” Hardy said.

Goff told dispatchers he saw the suspect run down the track embankment and into the swamp when patrol cars approached, the release said.

Roberts, Abbott and Michael Wells searched the area and found an area where the suspect ran into a heavily wooded area, the release said.

The release said Roberts chose to continue searching for Keene “due to a strangeness surrounding the event, which made the man run at the mere sight of law enforcement.”

Deputies found Keene hiding beneath some fallen trees near the St. Johns River, the release said.

Keene had active warrants for Putnam, Alachua and Marion counties and was out of the Florida prison system for less than one year.

In custody, the release said, Keene admitted to numerous residential and commercial burglaries in Putnam County.

“His arrest was instrumental in solving the murder of Thomas Lombardo, who was reported missing in Marion County on Jan. 25,” Joe Wells said.

After Keene’s arrest, officers in Marion County located Lombardo’s body and the discovery of other evidence, including a church van he stole in Palatka, Joe Wells said.

“The insistence of tracking a person, on what appeared to be a minor offense of trespassing, led to the capture of an extremely violent career criminal who would have only continued his attack,” Hardy said.

Keene is currently being held without bond at the Putnam County Jail.