Three men who fled the scene of a crash and attempted to hide in a pond on Monday were responsible for breaking into a car and stealing a purse at a day-care center hours earlier, according to Pasco County deputies.
All three, from Fort Lauderdale, were arrested after deputies found them in a pond in Land O' Lakes.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said the men — Willie Cuyler, 24; Darius Deon Henry, 24; and Cecil Deon Ruffin, 25 — may be part of a bigger ring that is connected to other recent vehicle smash-and-grabs in the area.
Around 9 a.m., deputies responded to a hit-and-run crash on Collier Parkway after the suspects fled the scene on foot south toward State Road 54.
The men — who deputies say are suspected of stealing the purse from the Discovery Point day-care center off Livingston Road in Lutz earlier that morning — were in a Toyota rental vehicle with a stolen tag when they were involved in a crash with a bus.
They fled on foot but returned quickly to retrieve the tag and the stolen purse from the vehicle, deputies said.
After setting up a perimeter, deputies say they chased Henry and Ruffin into a large pond and detained them.
Cuyler was still in the pond. Body cam footage shows deputies locating him in the swamp and pulling him out.
At the news conference, Nocco connected Monday's incident to other recent vehicle smash-and-grabs in the area. He said the men are part of the "Felony Lane Gang," a nationwide criminal organization that usually involves suspects traveling from city to city to break into cars.
"They're from South Florida, or they can be from the Orlando area, and they travel around the state and commit crimes," Nocco said.
Last week,three suspects from South Florida were arrested after deputies say they are responsible for several smash-and-grab vehicle burglaries at day-care centers and schools in Pinellas and Pasco counties.
"We've been getting hit by these 'Felony Lanes' of people coming into our county," Nocco said. "They're hitting places off the interstate –– gyms, doctors offices, day-care centers."
Nocco urged residents to lock their car doors and hide valuable items that they may keep in their vehicles.
"Don't be an easy target. Don't make it easy for them," he said.
All the men in Monday's incident had previous charges for burglary, deputies said.
They are each being held at the Pasco County Jail with bail set at more than $10,000. They face charges including burglary, resisting arrest and vehicle hit-and-run.
Contact Samantha Putterman at [email protected] Follow @samputterman.