WESLEY CHAPEL — After an extensive search, the driver of a pickup truck that struck a Pasco County sheriff's cruiser early Wednesday and badly injured the deputy was captured after running away, authorities said.
Unable to speak after being hit, Deputy Darren R. Hill, 29, managed to activate an emergency button on his radio and summon help. He was airlifted to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, where he was being treated for two broken legs and other injuries.
Miles away and seven hours after the 4:22 a.m. crash, authorities said they arrested Bertin Jaimes, 25, of 5230 Fourth St. in Zephyrhills. He faces a felony charge of leaving the scene of a crash involving serious injury, as well as counts of driving with an expired license and driving left of the center line, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
Authorities said the arrest was made at a Land O'Lakes home that hosted a News Year's Eve party — and where the pickup truck had been the night before.
The Pasco Sheriff's Office said it also arrested three people on charges they obstructed the investigation.
One of them — the agency did not specify who — picked up Jaimes from near the crash and drove him back to the home where the party had been, at 9811 Pangola Loop. The others knew where he was during the search, a sheriff's spokesman said.
After the crash on State Road 54 near Loury Drive in the Wesley Chapel area, police dogs were brought in and a perimeter was established as several law enforcement agencies searched.
At the same time, Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco went to the hospital to check on Hill, who completes his second year on the force Jan. 9. Nocco said Hill was in good spirits.
"Thank God our deputy is alive after a horrific crash," Nocco said. "We don't know if the suspect was intoxicated — it's too early to tell."
The patrol said a toxicology determination was pending.
Sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin said authorities had been looking for the driver of a 2002 red, Ford F-150 pickup truck.
A woman who owns the truck told authorities that the pickup was taken to the New Year's Eve party and provided a list of people who may have been driving it. Investigators found after the crash that two airbags in the pickup had deployed — raising the possibility that two people were on the loose. Wednesday afternoon, deputies stopped looking for a passenger, though they have not said if Jaimes was alone.
Tobin said Hill, on routine patrol in the marked cruiser, was driving west on SR 54 near Loury Drive when he was hit. A portion of SR 54 was closed for four hours during the investigation.
The Chevrolet Impala cruiser sustained about $20,000 in damage, investigators said.
According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Jaimes was arrested in 2009 by Miami-Dade County police on a charge of driving with a license that had expired more than four months earlier. Records do not show the disposition of the case.
The state records also show that when he was 19, Jaimes was arrested in Polk County on misdemeanor charges of possession of alcohol by someone under 21 and misrepresenting his age. He pleaded guilty, the records show, but adjudication was withheld.
The suspect's wife, brother and sister-in-law were arrested Wednesday on obstruction charges, according to the Sheriff's Office. They were identified as:
• Gladys Patricia Soto, 24, the suspect's wife.
• Jose Carmen Jaimes, 29, the suspect's brother.
• Jazmin Sanchez Aquirde, 21, the wife of Jose Jaimes.
Deputies questioned all three during the search, Tobin said, and they were believed to be withholding information about Jaimes' whereabouts.
Times news researcher Caryn Baird and staff writers Robbyn Mitchell and Curtis Krueger contributed to this report.