A 16-year-old Desoto County student led law enforcement officers on a wild and destructive ride March 4.
The spree resulted in a three-hour closure of the Cortez Bridge and gridlock on the southern half of Anna Maria Island.
The trail of destruction began around 10 a.m. when a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputy responded to a report of a stolen Ford F-350 from a Bradenton business in the 4000 block of 60th Street West, according to a news release issued by Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube.
The deputy spotted the vehicle heading west on Cortez Road near 119th Street West and pursued. He turned on his lights to initiate a traffic stop, at which time the driver allegedly accelerated toward the Cortez Bridge.
According to the probable cause affidavit filed by the pursuing deputy, the teenager reached speeds of 70 mph while crossing the bridge in light traffic. When he reached the Bradenton Beach intersection of Gulf Drive and Cortez Road, he struck the first of 23 vehicles.
He continued to flee down Gulf Drive at a speed in excess of 60 mph.
Witnesses, including Bradenton Beach Commissioner Jan Vosburgh and Vice Mayor Janie Robertson, said it appeared the driver was traveling much faster. Both Vosburgh and Robertson said they were shocked to see the chase play out.
The driver continued north on Gulf Drive onto East Bay Drive toward Manatee Avenue with the deputy still in pursuit. The driver then turned east on Manatee Avenue and sped toward the Anna Maria Island Bridge, where he sideswiped two more vehicles.
According to the report, the deputy was ordered to cease his pursuit and an MCSO helicopter took over the surveillance as the motorist continued on Manatee Avenue to 43rd Street West, where he turned south, heading back toward Cortez Road.
He turned right and headed back to Anna Maria Island on Cortez Road, where he eventually caused nine crashes, and himself crashed to a halt on the Cortez Bridge, where he was taken into custody by Bradenton Beach Police Officer Mike Bazell.
According to BBPD Police Chief Sam Speciale, Bazell drew his weapon and ordered the teen to exit the vehicle several times, but he refused. Speciale said Bazell used his weapon to break the truck’s window and forced the driver from the vehicle, at which time he was taken into custody.
According to the MCSO, the teen is blamed for 23 accidents during the chase.
BBPD worked four crashes, the Bradenton Police Department worked four crashes, the Holmes Beach Police Department worked two crashes and the MCSO worked 13 crashes, including nine on the Cortez Bridge.
There were no serious injuries reported.
The teenager was booked into the Manatee County jail on multiple charges. He is scheduled to be arraigned at 8:30 a.m. Monday, April 7.
Due to his age, the remainder of his booking and court information was not available as of Islander press time.
The Islander is withholding the juvenile’s name.
9 crashes fail to damage Cortez Bridge
The Florida Department of Transportation said the 16-year-old driver of the stolen vehicle who rammed the Cortez Bridge several times March 4 may have met his match for toughness.
“Our initial inspections have failed to find any damage to the bridge,” said JoAnn May, a DOT spokeswoman.
The driver of the stolen truck hit the bridge protection rail numerous times during his attempt to elude police, according to law enforcement reports. The youth twice crossed the Cortez Bridge during the chase.
“But the bridge held up nicely,” May said. “We’re still checking, but nothing found at this time.”