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Man with backpack full of cash arrested after leaping off Howard Frankland

A wanted man carrying a backpack loaded with cash leaped off the Howard Frankland Bridge causeway on Thursday morning after a car crash led authorities to him, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

He was soon plucked from the water and arrested.

Matthew Rushing, 27, was a passenger in a silver 2007 Cadillac CTS that rear-ended a black 2009 Nissan Maxima at 8:10 a.m. on the inside southbound lane in Pinellas County, patrol spokesman Steve Gaskins said.

Rushing was wanted in Manatee County for violating probation for driving with a suspended license.

A community service officer without arrest powers investigated the crash and found the warrant. Rushing started walking toward the northbound lanes as a trooper arrived. Before the trooper could arrest him, Rushing jumped from southbound lanes to northbound lanes on the causeway, ran across traffic and then leaped into the bay about 8:30 a.m., Gaskins said.

Helicopters and the Tampa police marine unit soon descended on the scene. Officers were concerned about what Rushing might have in his backpack.

After about 20 minutes in the water, Rushing was arrested on the warrant from Manatee County and on an obstructing or resisting an officer charge.

In the backpack, authorities found a large amount of cash. Gaskins said it was being held as authorities investigated it.

Anthony Gentry, 25, who drove the Cadillac, cooperated with authorities. Nissan driver Todd Anderson, 44, also cooperated. Investigators think Gentry fell asleep, triggering the crash.

Rushing was taken to Bayfront Medical Center with cuts and hypothermia.

Most of Rushing's 12 arrests since 2002 involved drugs, state records show.

He pleaded not guilty to his first arrest in Pinellas County on charges of possessing a controlled substance without a prescription. Charges were dropped in a pretrial diversion.

By 2007, he was sentenced to one year in jail. After jail, he violated a five-year probation sentence in 2008, and a judge revoked the probation. He was then sentenced to 364 more days in jail, serving some of the time by working in a park.

Hillsborough records show Rushing was arrested in 2008 for driving with a suspended or revoked license, possessing marijuana with intent to sell, possessing drug paraphernalia, leaving the scene of a crash, and obstructing or opposing an officer without violence. A month later, he was arrested for violating probation.

Times researchers Natalie Watson and John Martin and staff writer Robbyn Mitchell contributed to this report. Ileana Morales can be reached at (813) 226-3386 or imorales@sptimes.com.

Man with backpack full of cash arrested after leaping off Howard Frankland 02/24/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 25, 2011 9:52am]
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