TAMPA — The boy walked the same path he always did. He left his house Thursday and followed the Hillsborough River behind Blake High School to the field at Tampa Presbyterian Village.
On his way, the 12-year-old spotted a group of men standing by a red car parked under the N Boulevard bridge. He exchanged friendly chatter with the adults before moving on to meet his friends.
With his 9 p.m. curfew approaching, the boy headed home.
Beneath the overpass was the same red car. This time, there was just one man. Tampa police would later identify him as Dacquiri J. Crawford, a Hillsborough County school bus driver for eight years.
Crawford grabbed the child when he walked closer. He dragged the boy toward a clump of bushes by the Hillsborough River. There, Crawford made the boy perform a sex act on him and then further assaulted the boy, investigators said.
He stopped only when the child told him it hurt.
"If you liked that, I will be back," Crawford told the boy.
The 12-year-old ran home as fast as he could and told his mother, who called the police.
Crawford, 29, was arrested Friday night at N Boulevard and W Laurel Street, nearly 24 hours after the assault was reported, police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said Saturday.
Investigators found him after an intense, large-scale search based on the boy's report. The child described the suspect's car and said the man had a limp from a gunshot wound. He also told police about the suspect's promise to be back.
"It appears he was trying to develop some type of rapport with this child and get the child to come back and meet him," McElroy said.
Crawford of 1029 E Seventh Ave. remained in jail without bail on Saturday on charges of sexual battery, lewd and lascivious battery and trespassing on school property. He was hired on April 28, 2005, and is paid slightly more than $15,000, school district records show.
The district will send a letter to the jail telling him not to report to work, and the charges could affect his future employment if they're true, district spokesman Stephen Hegarty said.
"We have never had any problems with him whatsoever," Hegarty said. "He's done a good job for us as a bus driver."
The next step will be to take the case to the School Board, which could fire or suspend him without pay.
Three dozen undercover officers, police dogs and a helicopter searched the area for 24 hours after the assault to see if the suspect would return, McElroy said.
"We had a massive manhunt going on to catch this individual because he was a threat," McElroy said. "He was a very dangerous individual who victimized a 12-year-old very close to his home, snatched him against his will and victimized him. It was a huge relief when we caught him last night."
McElroy described Friday night's scene as "straight out of a Law and Order episode." The 24-hour window after the crime was approaching. Police drafted notices to alert residents to the crime and that the suspect was still on the loose. They were on the verge of hosting a news conference when Crawford was spotted at 8:30 p.m. near the site of the assault.
During questioning, Crawford admitted that the encounter took place but said the boy "came onto him" and agreed to have sex, according to the police report.
"Based on the exchange he had with the child and his actions, it indicates he has some experience with this particular crime," McElroy said. "Whether or not he's been building up to commit the crime for the first time or if this is not the first time, it's not clear."
Crawford has no prior arrests in Florida, state records show.
Crawford took police to his home, where he turned over the clothing he was wearing the night of the incident, McElroy said.
"He was very matter-of-fact and direct and forthcoming," McElroy said. "He had made a comment that he thought the boy was older, maybe 13 or 14 years old, and that made it okay in his mind."
School officials have no reason to think Crawford assaulted any children while working as a bus driver, Hegarty said.
Crawford lives in the Tampa Park Apartments, a public housing complex in Ybor City. No one answered the door there Saturday afternoon.
The housing complex is across the street from B.T. Washington Elementary School.
Staff writers Marlene Sokol and Jessica Vander Velde and researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Caitlin Johnston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443.