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Pasco burglary suspect escapes from patrol car using handcuff key he bought at flea market

PORT RICHEY — A deputy showed up early Sunday at Richard Zukoski's house to investigate an auto burglary and grand theft.

An hour earlier, Zukoski, 21, had stolen boxes of power tools and lawn equipment, worth hundreds of dollars, from a neighbor's truck. The items Zukoski took sat on his porch on Newell Drive.

As the deputy headed toward the house to arrest Zukoski, he reached for something he figured he might need: a handcuff key that came in a set that he and his girlfriend bought at a flea market a few years back.

Zukoski, wiry with short blond hair, slipped it into the left pocket of his shorts. "I was thinking, 'I want to get home and see my mom,' " Zukoski recalled as he sat in the Land O'Lakes jail Monday afternoon. "I didn't want to go to prison."

Sitting in the back of a patrol car in a McDonald's drive-through Sunday, Zukoski began to unlock his handcuffs while the deputy ordered food.

A few minutes later, his hands were free.

Zukoski asked the deputy to roll down the back window so he could spit. Instead, he reached out and opened the door.

Zukoski hopped out of the car and took off running.

He wasn't sure where to go at first. It was dark, but the sun was starting to rise. So he headed down Ashwood Drive, a street near his home.

He knocked on a friend's door, but no one answered. He hid behind bushes on the side of the house, hoping no one would see him.

By then, the deputy had called for backup. Three times, Zukoski saw deputies cross his path. After about 20 minutes of hiding, Zukoski thought he was free.

"I stepped out to see if I could make it to the next street," he said on Monday. "That's when the canine came around the corner. I didn't see it coming at all."

The barking dog got about 2 feet away from Zukoski. Deputies swarmed in and slammed Zukoski on the trunk of a patrol car. The handcuff key was in his shorts.

This time, Zukoski's restraints wouldn't be easy for him to escape from.

He was handcuffed tightly around his wrists. So tightly that the imprint of the second set of handcuffs left his wrists raw and red on Monday.

His feet were tied together and handcuffed, too.

Zukoski admits he's guilty of doing some "stupid stuff" and hanging out with the wrong crowd. He was first arrested for burglary in 2002, when he was just 14, records show.

Six years later, he was arrested for larceny and pleaded guilty to grand theft.

His record was clean until April. He says he stole speakers from the truck of a friend who owed him $200.

The grand theft charge was dropped, and Zukoski was put on probation for two years. But soon after, Zukoski's girlfriend broke up with him. He had also lost his job doing shipping and other work. That, he says, prompted him to steal the tools on Saturday.

"I hadn't worked in a while," he said, "and there was that stuff in the back of the truck."

At his house, deputies also found a 1990 red Suzuki motorcycle that Zukoski says a friend was storing there. But the motorcycle had been reported stolen, adding to his charges.

Zukoski is being held in lieu of $115,000 bail on the following charges: burglary, grand theft of a motor vehicle, escape, resisting arrest without violence, possession of a handcuff key, burglary of an occupied conveyance and unarmed, grand theft of $300 or more but less than $5,000, violation of probation and violation of probation for grand theft.

Of his arrest on Sunday, Zukoski said he is remorseful, bowing his head in jail on Monday. "It wasn't planned at all," he said. "I wasn't planning to hurt anyone. I wanted to go home."

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at cspencer@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4609.

Pasco burglary suspect escapes from patrol car using handcuff key he bought at flea market 07/20/09 [Last modified: Monday, July 20, 2009 10:25pm]
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