MANATEE -- A 16-year-old boy taking an apparent joyride in a stolen pickup truck caused havoc Tuesday in West Bradenton and Anna Maria Island before finally crashing on Cortez Road, according to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office. The melee closed Cortez Bridge for several hours, bringing traffic in the area to a near standstill.
About 10 a.m., Francisco Sanchez Ibarra, a runaway from Arcadia, was riding a bicycle when he spotted a red Ford F350 truck that had just been dropped off at Tint Shark, 4235 60th St. W., according to the sheriff's office.
Ibarra hopped into the truck and drove off.
According to the sheriff's office here is the sequence of what happened next:
"Deputies pursued the truck over the Cortez Bridge into Bradenton Beach. The suspect vehicle turned right on Gulf Drive and headed north to Manatee Avenue West. The truck turned right on Manatee Avenue in Holmes Beach and headed east back into Bradenton.
"The pursuit was called off on the Manatee Avenue Bridge near the causeway when the struck started veering into oncoming traffic. The MSO helicopter kept surveillance on the truck which continued east on Manatee Avenue to 43rd Street West. The truck then headed south on 43rd to Cortez Road and went west on Cortez Road back to the Cortez Bridge.
On his second pass over the Cortez Bridge, the vehicle -- which was running only on one tire and three rims -- came to a stop and Ibarra was arrested by Bradenton Beach police, according to the sheriff's office.
The bridge did not reopen to traffic until about 2 p.m.
During the chase, there were 23 separate crashes caused by Ibarra -- including nine on the Cortez Bridge, according to the sheriff's office.
The sheriff's office is investigating 13 of the crashes; Bradenton and Bradenton Beach police are investigating four crashes each; and Holmes Beach is investigating two crashes, according to the sheriff's office.
No one was seriously injured in the crashes.
Major streets in West Bradenton and heading to Anna Maria Island were at a near standstill after the crash and bridge closure.
The Cortez Bridge was closed for several hours as authorities investigated. The bridge was reopened about 2 p.m.
Among the roadways affected by the traffic jam were Cortez Road, 75th Street West and Manatee Avenue West, the only other route linking Anna Maria Island with the mainland.
An eye-witness to Tuesday's high-speed chase said the suspect -- reportedly a 16-year-old boy -- was "flying."
Erin Mulrine, 21, a server at the Sandbar restaurant. was sitting on her front porch at 10:15 am on 29th Street off Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach when the unexpected drama developed.
"He was flying down Gulf Drive going north having just come over the Cortez Bridge," Mulrine said. "He was driving a red duelly truck and he was going 100 mph in the middle of the road. People were pulling off the road. I have never seen anyone go that fast on that road."
Mulrine saw eight police cars in a high speed chase right behind the truck.
"He was in the middle of the road and not stopping," Mulrine said.
John and Julie Phelps, who are from Atlanta and staying with Julie's parents in Smuggler's Landing on the mainland just east of the Cortez Bridge, believe a decision they made Tuesday morning may have saved their lives.
"John said, 'Let's walk to the Gulf Drive Restaurant (in Bradenton Beach) for breakfast, but I said let's drive," Julie said. "Had we walked we would have been on the bridge when the red truck came over."
The sheriff's office said there were no serious injuries in the crashes.
Additional details will be released as they become available, according to the report.