HOLIDAY— While a man walked through an empty lot behind Ybor City bars early Friday morning, three men surrounded him. Two had guns, police say, and a third carried a baton. They wanted money.
He handed over money and his phone, and the armed men ran off. A short while later, another man passing through the lot at the corner of N 15th Street and E 15th Avenue noticed a silver Chevrolet Malibu following him.
Two men got out and chased him, Tampa Police say. The man dropped his cellphone while he ran and looked back to see the robbers picking it up.
One of the victims reported the car and tag number to police, reports state. Detectives took note and left.
Then, driving on I-275 on his way home around 4:30 a.m., a detective noticed the same car.
The detective called for patrol officers just as the car drove off, reports state. Other officers found the car on Fowler Avenue, then Dale Mabry. A police helicopter followed as the car blew through county lines.
It raced north and south on U.S. 19, picking up more law enforcement: Tarpon Springs Police, Pinellas Sheriff and Pasco Sheriff.
Reports say the driver abandoned the car, but search dogs tracked him to 3520 Truman Drive in Holiday. As Tampa Police watched from a helicopter, Patrick Pongnon, 21, went into the house. When they approached, a woman who lives there, Charquisha Arline, 23, denied that Pongnon was inside. Three children, two 4-year-olds and a 2-year-old, also lived in the house. Police said they entered the house and arrested Pongnon out of fear for the children's safety.
Neighbors say they've long been suspicious of goings on in the brown stucco home. Shirley Wells, who lives nearby, stood in a driveway just after sunrise Friday and pointed across the road to where cars would show up, and their drivers would leave the doors open for inexplicable five-minute visits to the home. They blared music and sped down her street, she said.
Since February, she had taken tag numbers and called authorities.
"We'll be glad to see them go, if they leave," she said, just before Arline was arrested in her front yard on charges of harboring a suspect.
Pongnon was booked into the Pasco County jail on charges of aggravated fleeing and eluding. He was being questioned Friday by Tampa Police in connection with the overnight robberies. Sheriff's spokeswoman Melanie Snow said they are still searching for two other men they believe were involved, but deputies said they do not think those men are in Pasco County.
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.