TAMPA — She’s 16 and bipolar; he’s 41 and a convicted sex offender, but they had decided to run away together. Now, in the blackness of a Louisiana night, they were speeding down Interstate 10 in a stolen truck, a trail of police cars behind them.
No one knows yet what Ashley Lyon, a Valrico teenager, was thinking as Steven Myers caused one crash after another during the high-speed pursuit Wednesday night through southern Louisiana. But police said they know what happened to her near the end of the 40-mile chase: The man with whom she had spent a week on the run, with whom she had driven more than 750 miles, suddenly leaned over and began stabbing her.
Lyon, 16, was taken to the hospital late Wednesday in critical but stable condition. By Thursday, her condition had been upgraded to serious but stable condition.
Investigators believe Myers stabbed Lyon — eight times in the front and twice in the back — after he “realized he wasn’t getting away,” said Stephen Engolio, chief deputy with the Iberville Sheriff’s Office in Louisiana.
Myers, from Plant City, was arrested after the Chevrolet flatbed truck he was driving finally gave out. Police said he began stabbing himself in the abdomen before officers were able to take him into custody by using a police dog and shooting him with a stun gun. He was in stable but serious condition Thursday.
He faces charges of attempted first degree murder, aggravated property damage and resisting arrest in Louisiana, Lafayette police said. In Hillsborough County, he faces charges of interference with child custody, traveling to meet a minor and attempted unlawful sexual activity with a minor.
The Wednesday night chase, stabbing and arrest was a dramatic end to a case that began on June 11 when Lyon suddenly left her parent’s home in Valrico.
Authorities said Lyon went willingly with Myers. She helped him plan their getaway and dyed her hair to prevent people from recognizing her, said Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Col. Donna Lusczynski.
“It was a situation where a 41-year-old sex offender manipulated a 16-year-old,” Lusczynski said.
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Police first attempted to stop Myers and Lyon after an employee at the Tiger Truck Stop off I-10 in Grosse Tete, La., recognized them.
Fawn Domingue, a cashier at the truck stop, had seen a photo of the pair on HLN host Nancy Grace’s Facebook page several hours before. When they came into the truck stop around 9:40 p.m., she thought she recognized Myers from somewhere. She made eye contact with Lyon, and knew immediately who they were, she said.
“The second that I looked her in the face, my stomach dropped,” said Domingue, 28.
Scott Holbrook, manager of the truck stop, said Myers walked to the counter with Lyon standing on his right side the entire time. Both were dressed in black.
“She stood close to him like she couldn’t leave him,” Holbrook said.
Myers bought a pack of L&M menthol cigarettes for $4.64, and he and Lyon walked back out to their truck, Holbrook said. Domingue followed to get a description of their car and told Holbrook to call police.
“It’s all on her,” Holbrook said. “She’s the hero.”
Holbrook said Fawn originally wasn’t supposed to be at work on Wednesday night.
“I’m relieved that Fawn recognized him,” said Holbrook, 59. “I’m glad I was working with her. All the things that happened were God given. God was here.”
After Holbrook called the sheriff’s office, an Iberville County Sheriff’s deputy who happened to be nearby showed up almost immediately and attempted to stop Myers, who was driving, on the way out of the truck stop parking lot. Myers refused to pull over and sped off heading west on I-10, prompting a multi-agency police chase, authorities said.
The pursuit spanned over 40 miles through two parishes and cut through the Atchafalaya Swamp. During the chase, the pickup struck four other vehicles as Myers attempted to create a road block behind him, authorities said. Louisiana State Police said no injuries were reported.
Officers with the Lafayette Police Department used tire spikes to deflate five of the truck’s six tires, authorities said, but Myers continued to drive on the rims until one of the tires caught fire.
He stepped out of the car waving a knife and yelling at police to shoot him, authorities said. When they didn’t, he stabbed himself. Officers stunned him with a Taser and released a K-9, disarming him, Lafayette police said.
Lyon and Myers both were taken to a local hospital. Investigators said the truck, which was damaged in the fire, was stolen from Taylor County in Florida.
As the mother of a 5-year-old son, Domingue said, she couldn’t stop think about what Lyon’s family was going through. She said she felt had to do something when Lyon and Myers walked into the truck stop’s store.
But when she later found out what Myers did to Lyon during the chase, she felt sick, and then guilty.
“At first I was blaming myself,” Domingue said. “Then the cops told me, ‘No, you possibly saved this girl’s life.’”
In an email exchange Thursday with the Tampa Tribune, Grace said she has been fighting for crime victim’s rights for many years, “and it makes me extremely proud that our program could help find a missing child and help capture a sex predator.”
Grace spoke to Holdbrook and Domingue as well as the Iberville, La. sheriff on Thursday, and her interviews aired on her 8 p.m. show on the HLN network.
“Fawn was in tears over Ashley Lyon’s plight,” Grace said. “She and Mr. Holbrook are overwhelmed that they actually helped save Ashley’s life. The perp stabbed Ashley when he realized that sheriffs were closing in on him and there was no way out. Under other circumstances, Ashley could very well be dead tonight. Instead, when she is out of the hospital, she will be reunited with her family. I am grateful that we could help; it’s a miracle.”
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Lusczynski said Myers will likely be in the hospital for several days. Authorities have not yet spoken to Lyon about what happened, but her mother, Michelle, took the first flight she could get after her family received the news that she had been found.
“That’s our priority in this case,” Lusczynski said. “Getting Ashley home to her family.”
Until Wednesday night, Lyon, who is a student at Newsome High School, had not been seen since she left her home at about 4 p.m. on June 11. She has been diagnosed as bipolar and did not take her medications with her, her family said.
Her 19-year-old brother, Sean, had said Ashley met Myers about six months ago through Myers’ two teenage sons. Myers, who is from Georgia, was living with his mother in Plant City, but his ex-wife and sons live in the same subdivision as the Lyons.
After Myers began coming over to his ex-wife’s home to do repairs, he began to socialize with his children’s friends, including Ashley, Sean Lyon said.
On Tuesday, a nationwide arrest warrant was issued for Myers, a registered sex offender.
Myers was arrested on child molestation charges in March 1999 in Forsyth County, Ga., court records show. He was sentenced to five years in prison, 10 years of probation and community service. Records show he violated his probation in 2008 and 2010, and was sentenced to an additional two years in prison for the second violation.
He registered a Plant City address with the Florida Sexual Offender database in April, records show.
Robert Christie of Plant City has known Steven Myers for a few years. Several years ago, he sold him his truck.
“Nice enough guy,” Christie said. But he noticed that he had an eccentric disposition. “He’s a little peculiar,” Christie said.
Myers lived on a mobile home on property on Sandy Oaks Road in Plant City, near his brother and parents, Christie said.
He said he’s met Myers several times and has never had a problem with him. Myers picked up junk and resold it, keeping two or three sheds on his property filled with junk, Christie said.
He said Myers often hung at a convenience store at the intersection of Knights Griffin Road and Pless Road.
“He’s just peculiar,” Christie said. “He hangs out at the local convenience store. Back and forth all the time.”
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At a press conference Thursday, Lyon’s father, Roger, expressed his gratitude to the public and the employees at Tiger Truck Stop for helping police find his daughter and ending the family’s “nightmare.”
“I thank you so much,” Roger Lyon said. “You did the right thing. You saw something and you said something.”
He said the truck stop employees are eligible for the $5,000 reward the family had been offering for information about Lyon.
“Five thousand dollars is nothing compared to the return of my daughter,” Roger Lyon said.
He said his family was ecstatic when they got the news that Ashley Lyon had been found and then shocked when details about her injuries were released.
“To hear that your daughter, your baby has been stabbed... I wouldn’t wish that on anyone,” Roger Lyon said.
The family is anxious to get her home and begin the long healing process.
“Right now,” he said, “my main concern is healing my daughter at making my family whole again.”
Staff writers Josť PatiŮo Girona and Jerome Stockfisch contributed to this report.