MANATEE -- A 16-year-old boy in a stolen pickup truck caused 23 vehicle accidents Tuesday morning in West Bradenton and Anna Maria Island before finally crashing on the Cortez Bridge, according to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.
The joy ride closed Cortez Bridge for nearly four hours, bringing traffic in the area to a near standstill.
Francisco Sanchez Ibarra, a runaway from Arcadia, was riding a bicycle about 10 a.m. 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 west on Cortez Road.
"The owner was there to get his windows tinted and his vehicle was parked there ready be worked on," said Dave Bristow, a sheriff's office spokesman.
The sheriff's office reported the following sequence 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 reportedly called off on the Manatee Avenue Bridge near the causeway when the truck started veering into oncoming traffic. The MCSO helicopter kept surveillance on the truck, which continued east on Manatee Avenue to 43rd Street West, and the chase soon resumed.
The truck went south on 43rd to Cortez Road and west on Cortez Road back to the Cortez Bridge.
"He just drove in a loop," Bristow said.
On his second pass over
the Cortez Bridge, the vehicle, which now had flat tires from stop sticks -- 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, 23 crashes were caused by Ibarra, including nine on the Cortez Bridge, according to the sheriff's office.
The sheriff's office is investigating 13 crashes; Bradenton and Bradenton Beach police are investigating four each; and Holmes Beach is investigating two, according to the sheriff's office.
No one was seriously injured in the crashes, however, one woman was taken to the hospital, Bristow said.
Roadways affected by the traffic jam included Cortez Road, 75th Street West and Manatee Avenue West, the only other route linking Anna Maria Island with the mainland.
An eyewitness said the suspect was "flying" in the stolen truck.
Erin Mulrine, 21, a server at the Sandbar restaurant. said she 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 Dually 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 counted eight police cars in the 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, said 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."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @ RichardDymond