TAMPA — An armed carjacking outside a downtown hotel Saturday started a multicounty chase involving several law enforcement agencies that ended two hours later after the carjacker returned to the area, authorities said.
Matthew Evan Cartagena, 20, of Tampa faces charges of armed carjacking, aggravated fleeing to elude and resisting arrest after police say he stole a car at gunpoint from a Michigan couple in town for a wedding. Tampa police released the following account of the incident, which began about 11:20 a.m.:
Jainullabdin Syed, 67, and Khursheed Syed, 56 — of Essexville, Mich. — had just put their 6-year-old grandson in their car outside the Hilton at 211 N Tampa St. when Cartagena approached with a gun and demanded the keys. If they didn't give him the keys, the man told the Syeds, according to police, he'd "blow their heads off." Cartagena removed the boy from the car, and the Syeds handed over the keys.
Cartagena took Interstate 4 east to Interstate 75 and headed south, with Tampa police in pursuit. Other law enforcement agencies joined the chase as he headed south: the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, Florida Highway Patrol, the Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte County sheriff's offices, and North Port Police Department. Tampa police followed Cartagena as far south as Sarasota before turning back.
They didn't have to wait too long, however, because eventually the chase boomeranged. Cartagena reversed course on I-75 and headed north, and other agencies called Tampa police to let them know the stolen Range Rover was on its way back. Several officers were waiting along I-75, and followed when Cartagena exited in Brandon. Cartagena was stuck at a red light, police said, in the area of Bloomingdale Avenue and Gornto Lake Road when he bailed out of the Range Rover and ran. He left the vehicle in gear and it caused a small accident with no injuries, police said. Cartagena was arrested about 1:20 p.m. He was booked into Hillsborough County jail Saturday night, records show, and was denied bail.
The Syeds and their grandson were not injured in the incident, according to police. "It was kind of a terrifying situation for the victims, but it ended well," said Tampa Lt. Calvin Johnson.
Times researcher Tim Rozgonyi contributed to this report.