TAMPA — A weeklong search for a missing 16-year-old girl traveling with a sex offender came to a violent end more than 700 miles from her Valrico home after a Louisiana truck stop cashier recognized the teen from a Facebook post.
"I just saw her face and was like, 'Oh my God,' " said Fawn Domingue, 28, who was filling in for a coworker at the Tiger Truck Stop near Baton Rouge when the pair came in Wednesday night.
Her tip touched off a 40-mile police chase down Interstate 10 with sex offender Steven Patrick Myers, 41 of near Plant City, at the wheel of a stolen truck and the missing Ashley Lyon inside, authorities said.
It culminated in Lafayette when Myers stopped after riding on the sparking rims of four blown tires, climbed on the truck hood and yelled for police to kill him before stabbing himself, authorities said.
He was attacked by a police dog and shocked with a Taser before officers arrested him.
Police then found a wounded Ashley in the disabled truck's cab. Myers had apparently stabbed her eight times in the front of her torso and twice in the back.
She was taken to a hospital in Lafayette where she was in serious but stable condition.
"I just pray to God that she'll be okay," Domingue said in an interview Thursday with the Tampa Bay Times. "I have mixed emotions. … I hope that she's thankful to me and I hope that she's not mad at me."
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Ashley had been missing since June 11. She suffers from bipolar disorder and disappeared without taking along her medication, her family said. Her parents believed she left willingly with Myers, with whom they later discovered she had exchanged hundreds of text messages.
Myers has twice been convicted of child molestation in Georgia and was required to register his address with local authorities.
Ashley's father, Roger Lyon, said at a news conference with Hillsborough County sheriff's officials Thursday afternoon in Tampa he was relieved the teenager had been found.
"My daughter is strong. I know she's strong-willed," he said. "I know she'll pull through this."
Ashley's mother, Michelle Lyon, was traveling to Louisiana early Thursday. Neither she nor law enforcement officers had yet spoken with Ashley about what had happened.
Roger Lyon said there would likely be an "introductory process" to make sure Ashley is ready and receptive to seeing her family.
"Right now my main concern is healing my daughter and making my family whole again," he said.
Not taking her medication, he added, would leave her "especially vulnerable to somebody's manipulation."
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Domingue wasn't even supposed to be working at the Tiger Truck Stop on Wednesday night.
Before heading in to cover for another employee, she was browsing the Facebook page of CNN host Nancy Grace and came across a video segment about Ashley's disappearance.
At about 9:40 p.m., she was closing out her cash register when a man approached the counter wanting to buy a pack of L & M menthol cigarettes, Domingue said.
His face looked familiar, but Domingue couldn't place him. Then she saw Ashley — instantly recognizing her from her close-cropped hair, although authorities said the teen had dyed her hair darker in the past week.
"She seemed okay," Domingue said. "She seemed calm. She looked at me."
Domingue directed the two to another register. She fumbled with her cell phone, looking for a Crime Stoppers number. The two headed outside. Domingue followed, watching as they headed across the parking lot and got into a truck. She flagged down an arriving sheriff's car.
"There is a 16-year-old missing girl from Florida in that truck," she told the deputy. Moments later, the truck sped off toward I-10, dust trailing behind.
Deputies and Louisiana state troopers chased the Chevrolet 3500 flatbed pickup truck. Myers ran into four other cars in what authorities said was an attempt to create roadblocks behind him.
Near Lafayette, police deployed stop sticks and blew out the truck's tires. Still, Myers drove on until the truck was riding on its rims, police said, trailing sparks as a parade of cop cars with lights flashing followed.
He got out of the truck with a knife in hand and jumped on the hood, said Iberville Parish sheriff's Maj. James Cox. He began yelling at deputies to shoot him and then stabbed himself.
A police dog attacked him, Cox said. Deputies and police then swarmed, taking him into custody. He was taken to a hospital and is expected to be there for several days, authorities said.
Myers will likely face charges in Louisiana, including attempted murder, aggravated property damage and resisting arrest, authorities said.
He already faces several charges in Florida, including interference with child custody, attempted unlawful sexual activity with a minor and traveling to meet a minor.
Myers had stolen the truck he was driving in Louisiana from Taylor County, authorities said. They are still looking for the truck he and Ashley left Hillsborough County in last week.
Ashley, who recently finished her sophomore year at Newsome High School, became acquainted with Myers in April, her parents said, when he began hanging around the neighborhood with his sons.
She went to school with the boys and knew them well because their house is one street over from the cul-de-sac where she lives.
Other parents in the quiet, gated neighborhood frequently saw Myers. He stood out from the other people who lived there, riding skateboards and hanging out with the reserved 16-year-old.
"When you see someone who doesn't fit the mold of where you live, especially nowadays, your radar kind of goes up," said neighbor Rhonda Matthews, adding that Ashley's father told his daughter not to hang out with Myers.
Iberville Parish Sheriff Brett Stassi praised Domingue for spotting the pair.
"What this young lady did and the people at the Tiger Truck Stop did may have saved this girl's life," the sheriff said. "There's no telling what would have happened if he had gotten away."
Times news researcher John Martin and staff writer Caitlin Johnston contributed to this report, which also includes information from the Advocate (Baton Rouge, La.).