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Hit-run driver who refused to leave van threatened to shoot, Hillsborough deputies say

By Tony Marrero
The driver of this van tried to flee the scene of a crash in north Tampa Thursday morning until he could travel no farther, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said. Then he refused to leave the van and threatened sheriff's deputies, they said. [TONY MARRERO | Times]

TAMPA — Eddie Carly Colon Soto peeked his head out the broken side window of his van as a SWAT team closed in.

Ninety minutes earlier, deputies say, Soto had caused a crash by running a red light at Nebraska and Fletcher avenues. Now, he was holed up in a white Ford passenger van, stalled out in the middle of Nebraska's southbound lanes and refusing to get out after threatening to shoot deputies.

Then, as television news cameras rolled inside helicopters overhead, the 39-year-old Tampa man hurled himself head first out the window, landing on the pavement. Moments later, Soto was in custody, ending a tense standoff that closed one of Tampa's busiest intersections during rush hour.

The incident began about 7:40 a.m. Thursday as Soto, heading north on Nebraska, ran the red light, said sheriff's Maj. David Fleet. A Nissan Maxima heading east on Fletcher t-boned the van, causing both vehicles to spin out of control.

Instead of stopping, Soto sped up and fled south on Nebraska, wheels spinning, at one point driving on the sidewalk. Disabled from the crash, the van stopped in the middle of the southbound lanes, Fleet said.

When deputies arrived and approached the van, Soto told them he had a gun and threatened to shoot them, Fleet said.

"At that point they backed off, attempted to talk to him and negotiate with him to get him to come out of his vehicle," he said.

When Soto refused to get out, deputies called the sheriff's crisis negotiation team and evacuated nearby businesses.

A couple of blocks south of the scene, deputies stood on the side of Nebraska ready to deploy stop sticks in case he tried to flee. Onlookers, some with cell phone cameras pointed at the scene, gathered on the sidewalk in the blazing sun.

At some point, Soto broke out the rear window on the driver's side of the van. A deflated air bag dangled over gaping hole like a curtain.

Shortly after 9 a.m., as SWAT members positioned a large armored vehicle behind the van and television news cameras rolled, Soto threw himself out of the window. He landed on the pavement, kicking off his Nike tennis shoes and shorts that had been yanked to his ankles during the fall.

Lying in the road in his boxer briefs, Soto kept one hand concealed underneath his black T-shirt. Because he refused to show his hands, Fleet said, a tactical team member let loose a sheriff's dog that latched onto Soto's stomach. SWAT members armed with rifles converged on Soto and struggled with him for a moment to get both hands behind his back.

A moment later, he sat on the pavement, his hands cuffed behind him and his chest heaving as an ambulance pulled up.

Soto was taken to a local hospital to be treated for dog bites that Fleet described as minor. He was later released and booked into the Hillsborough County jail on charges of leaving the scene of an accident with injuries and reckless driving. Other charges may follow, Fleet said.

The woman driving the Nissan was also taken to a hospital to be treated for serious injuries. Her name was not released.

Deputies did not find a gun on Soto and were working to get a warrant to search the van.

Records show Soto has one previous arrest in Florida, a 2006 charge of harboring a fugitive. The disposition of the case was not available Thursday.

Senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.