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Friday, May 26, 2017
Crime & Courts

Police: Car thief crashes stolen fire truck on I-275

TAMPA — Two months ago, Shaun Agnes was hit from behind by another vehicle while driving. Since then, he’s been constantly monitoring his rearview mirror to watch the traffic behind him.

What he saw late Wednesday afternoon from the driver’s seat of his refrigeration and air- conditioning van astounded him.

Agnes was in bumper-to-bumper traffic on southbound Interstate 275 when he saw a Hillsborough County Fire Rescue pickup coming up fast in the far right lane. As he watched, the truck crashed into a cement wall, bounced off and hit another vehicle. The truck hit the wall again, then slammed into a four-door Saturn.

The crash caused a chain reaction involving three other vehicles, including Agnes’ white work van.

What Agnes and hundreds of commuters during the afternoon rush hour didn’t know was that the fire rescue pickup had been stolen after an earlier crash at Nebraska Avenue and 139th Avenue in Tampa. Police said the driver of a stolen vehicle wrecked, then stole a fire truck driven by one of his would-be rescuers.

The crash on I-275, just south of the Ashley Drive exit, happened after a pursuit by Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and Tampa police.

Even then, the drama wasn’t over. As Agnes watched, the driver ran off and appeared to contemplate jumping off the overpass. Instead, he fled south, pursued by several police officers. They eventually tackled the driver and subdued him with help of a stun gun, Agnes said.

“I didn’t know what was going on,’’ said Agnes, 25, of Tampa. “I didn’t realize it was a criminal. He was resisting five big guys. They were Tasering him. It’s surreal. It’s something out of ‘Cops.’ ”

Police said the driver was John Edgerton, 29of 13918 Shady Shores Drive, Tampa. He faces two counts of grand theft auto, aggravated fleeing to elude, resisting arrest with violence, and two counts of battery on a law enforcement officer and depriving a public safety worker of his or her equipment, said Andrea Davis, a Tampa police spokeswoman. He could face additional charges, Davis said.

The suspect was transported to Tampa General Hospital, police said. His condition was unknown. He will be booked into Orient Road once he is medically cleared.

The driver of the Saturn was taken to Tampa General Hospital in stable condition, Davis said.

A Tampa police officer suffered a broken hand; a second Tampa police officer received stitches on his head. Both officers were taken to Tampa General Hospital.

No one else from the crash scene on I-275, which included a total of seven vehicles, was transported to the hospital, Davis said.

According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, the chain of events began about 5 p.m. when the sheriff’s office and Hillsborough County Fire Rescue responded to a single-vehicle crash on Nebraska and 139th avenues. The vehicle, which the sheriff’s office said was stolen, had struck a pole.

Edgerton, the driver, jumped out of the vehicle and ran over to a fire rescue pickup that had been driven to the scene by a battalion chief, the sheriff’s office said. Edgerton then fled the scene in the fire rescue pickup, a Ford F-150.

Sheriff’s deputies pursued the pickup onto southbound I-275.

The sheriff’s office contacted Tampa police about 5:15 p.m. and said deputies were in pursuit of the stolen fire rescue pickup. Near Sligh Avenue, the sheriff’s office ended the pursuit and Tampa police took over.

After the crash and arrest, all three lanes on southbound I-275 were closed until 9:15 p.m.

Davis said police officers pursued the pickup once it entered city limits but didn’t know if the pursuit had been called off by the time of the crash. Police have specific policies on when to pursue a vehicle; an investigation will determine if the pursuit was justified, Davis said.

Davis said one concern was that Edgerton had stolen a marked public safety vehicle.

“We didn’t know what his intent was going to be,” Davis said. “When there’s a felony, you can pursue.’’

Just in front of Agnes’ van, Oscar Martin was in his Ford Ranger pickup when he was rear ended by Agnes’ van. He saw Edgerton run by and get arrested by police officers.

“It was all very fast,” said Martin, 33, of Tampa. “I only thought this happens in the movies. No one thinks they’re going to live a scene that you see in a movie.”

jpatino@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7659

Twitter: @jpatinoTBO

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