Traffic on Interstate 275 was clogged for several hours Thursday afternoon as Pasco sheriff's deputies searched for three men who bailed out of a stolen Nissan Maxima after they flipped it just south of the Pasco County line.
Deputies attempted to pull over the Nissan on Interstate 75 near State Road 56 around noon. The southbound car had a stolen tag, they said, and matched the description of one seen at several residential burglaries in Pasco and possibly surrounding counties.
The Nissan took off and led deputies on a three-minute chase southbound on I-75. Deputies followed it when it merged onto I-275.
The pursuit ended when the Nissan hit a guardrail near mile marker 58 and landed on its roof in the northbound lanes of I-275.
Three men scrambled from the car into the woods to the east and west of the interstate. Deputies said at least one was hobbling.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission helped Pasco deputies search the marshy woods surrounding the interstate. Officials from the Florida Highway Patrol, the Hernando and Hillsborough County sheriff's offices and the Tampa Police Department were also involved in the search.
Tampa officers caught up with two of the suspects, Quinton Washington, 22, and Nathaniel Jones, 20, when they emerged from the woods near Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, east of the accident site.
There was no report on whether they had any injuries.
The Pasco Sheriff's Office urged drivers not to pick up any hitchhikers near the I-275 and I-75 junction. They consider the third man, still on the loose as of Thursday evening, as armed and dangerous. Deputies said he is a black man wearing black shorts and a white T-shirt.
Deputies said they found several stolen items, including a safe, inside the car, which was stolen from Manatee County. They could not confirm whether the jewelry that littered the ground near the crash was among the stolen goods.
Traffic was slowed for about five hours as officials investigated the scene.
Both Washington and Jones have been arrested in the past on burglary and vehicle theft charges, among others.
They remained at the Orient Road Jail in Tampa on Thursday evening, facing grand theft auto charges. Bail information was not available.
The Florida Highway Patrol is investigating the crash.
Times photographer Melissa Lyttle contributed to this report. Helen Anne Travis can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 521-6518.