A 16-year-old runaway from Arcadia stole a heavy-duty truck from a Bradenton auto window tinting shop Tuesday morning, then went on a wild joy ride through the city and out onto Anna Maria Island, smashing into 23 vehicles along the way and causing several injuries to other motorists, police said.
The resulting collisions with the other cars closed the Cortez Bridge to motorized vehicles for about four hours, snarling traffic on Cortez Road, Gulf Drive and Manatee Avenue. Virtually all traffic on and off the Island had to be diverted to the Manatee Avenue bridge, which quickly became overwhelmed by the volume and was basically a gridlocked mess for about three hours.
The suspect, Francisco Sanchez Ibarra, was captured about 11 a.m. after police deployed stop sticks and flattened the tires on the red Ford F-350, causing him to grind to a halt on the bridge amid an array of wrecked vehicles he had sideswiped, police said.
The casualty count was 23 damaged vehicles, but no serious injuries to the drivers or passengers. There were two crashes in Holmes Beach, four in Bradenton Beach, four in Bradenton and 13 were handled by the Manatee County Sheriff’s office (MCSO), including nine vehicles wrecked on the Cortez Bridge.
An ambulance left after attending to the drivers who were stuck with their cars on the drawbridge. The stolen truck looked like something out of a demolition derby, with the right front tire gone, and running boards hanging down. Every body panel was dented, including the front bumper, and the fiberglass rear fenders were torn.
According to authorities:
The incident began when the truck’s owner left the keys in the ignition after taking it to Tint Shark, 4235 60th St. W., to have the windows tinted, according to MCSO spokesman Dave Bristow. While talking with an employee, the owner saw the truck take off at a high rate of speed and then called authorities.
Deputies responded to a report of a stolen truck on Cortez Road near 119th Street West. They pursued the vehicle over the Cortez Bridge and onto Gulf Drive, where it headed north to Manatee Avenue West and then turned right, heading back to Bradenton.
Deputies called off the pursuit after they noticed the suspect was driving toward oncoming traffic on the Manatee bridge, but the MCSO helicopter continued trailing the vehicle as it turned right on 43rd Street West to Cortez Road and then turned right again, heading back toward the Cortez Bridge.
Somewhere along the way, deputies put down the stop strips, which caused at least the right front tire to go flat. That apparently slowed him down as he progressed, only to become wedged with other vehicles. Bradenton Beach Detective, Sgt Lenard Diaz, pulled Ibarra out arrested him.
Mike Bull, who works at the Sandbar restaurant, was on the Manatee Bridge when Ibarra came across, followed by police.
“There were two cars chasing him and all I could think was, ‘Why are they doing that?’” Bull said.
Island Sun Distribution Director Bob Alexander, of Holmes Beach, was behind a stopped trolley on East Bay Drive near Walgreens when he saw the truck coming up behind him.
“I saw passengers from the trolley starting to cross the street and I honked my horn at them,” Alexander said. “They stopped and the truck went past followed by police cars from Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach. After they passed us they turned right on Manatee Avenue and I heard one of the people from the trolley say they almost got killed.”
Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale and Mayor Bill Shearon were participating in the annual community meeting with Sandpiper Resort residents Tuesday morning when the chase passed by them, headed north, toward Holmes Beach.
Speciale said he placed a mic by his portable radio so the audience could listen to the pursuit in progress.
“Just when he was entering our jurisdiction again, Officer (Mike) Bazzell, pulled up in front of him, exited his vehicle, unholstered his firearm and ordered the drive to stop and put his hands up.”
Detective (Leonard) Diaz exited the police department, went up to the bridge, the person in the truck would not comply with the officers instructions, they broke the window, they brought the driver out of the vehicle and then placed him on the ground and into custody.”
“We placed him in custody, the manatee Sherrifs office are the one putting the charges on him.
No one was seriously injured. We had some people treated and released. Officer Bazzell did get a couple scrapes on his hand from when he broke the window, but other than that we were very lucky.”
“We’ve been in pursuits out here before and we’ve assisted in pursuits, but not of this magnitude – and I’ve been hear 27 years, ” Speciale said. “There was a lot of carnage on that bridge.”
Commissioner Jan Vosburgh was also at the Sandpiper clubhouse.
“I was shocked that this car was going by at what looked like 95 miles per hour, with four or five police cars following it. It was a little bit on the scary side.”
She later left the Island and encountered delays getting back to Bradenton Beach. “And then I got stuck. I ended up going off the Island, on Manatee Avenue, and it took hours, until 4:30 in the afternoon, until I could get back.”
That’s pretty scary stuff. I would have been really scared if I had been on that bridge and saw that car coming toward me.”
Ibarra was booked and charged with grand theft auto, along with a number of charges for leaving the scene of an accident, reckless driving.- Sun correspondent Joe Hendricks contributed to this report.