Tampa police: Three die in crash after shoplifting beer

Emergency personnel investigate the one-car accident that killed three people and injured one shortly after 8 p.m. Sunday on Columbus Drive near N Matanzas Avenue in Tampa.

AUSTIN ANTHONY | Times

Emergency personnel investigate the one-car accident that killed three people and injured one shortly after 8 p.m. Sunday on Columbus Drive near N Matanzas Avenue in Tampa.

TAMPA — Three people died and one was hospitalized Sunday night when their sport utility vehicle flipped while fleeing a convenience store where they stole some beer, police said.

The Jeep was speeding from the 7-Eleven store at Columbus Drive and Himes Avenue in West Tampa, where a man in the vehicle had shoplifted some Natural Light, police said.

"So this whole thing is over some beer," said Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis.

The crash occurred shortly after 8 p.m. on Columbus Drive near N Matanzas Avenue, only a few blocks from the store.

The names and ages of the people who died were not expected to be released until today, although police said they were all adults.

Two men and a woman were found dead at the scene, police said. Rescue crews extricated another man from the SUV, and he was taken in unknown condition to St. Joseph's Hospital.

Davis said the Jeep was speeding east on Columbus Drive when the driver of a Toyota Tacoma pickup saw in his rearview mirror that the SUV was fast approaching.

He changed lanes to keep the SUV from hitting him. But the Jeep swerved and struck a concrete wall to a cemetery.

The Jeep then flipped and came to rest about 50 feet away.

Investigators closed Columbus Drive in both directions between MacDill and Himes avenues while the crash was investigated. Police expected the road segment to be closed for hours.

Crystal Garcia, a clerk at the 7-Eleven, said a passenger from the Jeep walked into the store shortly before 8 p.m. Sunday.

She said the man retrieved two 12-packs from the cooler and walked to the counter to stand in line. A few moments later, he walked out without paying and climbed into the front seat on the passenger side of the Jeep.

An employee ran outside to stop the Jeep, but the vehicle sped off eastbound on Columbus, she said.

Garcia, who has worked at the store for three years, said the group seemed intoxicated and argued briefly before the man entered alone.

"They seemed to be having some kind of altercation about who was driving," she said.

A woman who sat in driver's seat exited the Jeep and pleaded with the man not to go inside, but he brushed past her, Garcia said. After the Jeep left with the stolen beer, Garcia said she called 911 to report the theft and a possible DUI.

Police were reviewing surveillance video from inside the store as part of the investigation.

"Stuff like this happens more often that not, but not with a fatality," Garcia said. "I won't be getting any sleep tonight."

Tampa police: Three die in crash after shoplifting beer 04/14/13 [Last modified: Monday, April 15, 2013 12:17am]

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