A "smash-and-grab" robbery and high-speed chase ended abruptly Saturday morning when the suspects crashed their getaway car into a Christian book store on Fifth Avenue, police say.
Wallace T. Brooke, 31, and George R. Huston, 27, both of Tampa, were taken by helicopter to St. Joseph's Hospital with possibly life-threatening injuries, fire-rescue officials said.
By noon, Brooke was in critical condition and Huston's condition was satisfactory, a hospital representative said.
Miller's Leap of Faith Christian Books and Gifts, 38430 Fifth Ave., was "virtually demolished" by the crash, said Jon Powers, spokesman for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.
The building's front wall, side wall and roof collapsed, and minor damage was done to Neukom's Health Foods and Laura's Consignment Shoppe nearby.
"The damage? It's kind of hard to say _ probably over $50,000," Leap of Faith owner Sue Lynn Miller said. "(The crash) did a lot of stock damage."
Bibles, books, T-shirts, jewelry and audiotapes were ruined when the 1989 Hyundai hit a bump in the road at a high speed, went airborne for more than 100 feet and crashed into the brick building.
Mrs. Miller said she is grateful for the assistance she has received from her neighbors and fellow citizens since the accident. "I just appreciate all the help," she said. "They've just been wonderful this morning."
Powers described the events leading up to the crash:
At 4:13 a.m., a Pasco sheriff's deputy was flagged down by a witness who said someone was robbing the ABC Pizza Restaurant at State Road 54 and Interstate 75 in Wesley Chapel.
The deputy spotted a man carrying a cash register jump into the Hyundai just before it drove east on SR 54.
There was no traffic on the road as the deputy chased after the suspects. A second Pasco deputy joined the pursuit. The Hyundai reached speeds between 90 and 100 mph as it approached Zephyrhills and began to leave the deputies behind.
The deputies discontinued the chase and were dropping back as the suspects approached the city, Powers said.
When the Hyundai reached SR 54 and U.S. 301, it nearly collided with two Zephyrhills police cruisers who had been preparing to block the intersection. That was when the driver, Brooke, apparently lost control and crashed into the building.
Brooke was ejected from the car, but Huston jumped out of the car and ran. Zephyrhills police Officer Ryan Back was going off duty when he heard about the pursuit on his police radio, Powers said.
Zephyrhills police Sgt. Richard Scudder said Back noticed Huston and chased him for about a block before finally tackling him behind the Tampa Tribune building on Eighth Street. The man's arm was badly injured.
"He had a big, deep gash down to the bone," said Powers. "There's a good chance that if (Back) hadn't stopped him, he might have bled to death."
Chief Tom Santell of Pasco County Fire-Rescue said Huston has a severed right arm and various head injuries as a result of the crash. Brooke has a fractured skull and possible internal injuries. Both men were unconscious as they were being taken to St. Joseph's.
Powers said there have been at least a dozen "smash-and-grab" robberies in the Wesley Chapel area in the past three or four weeks. Thieves simply break in through a door or window, grab cash, cigarettes or other merchandise, and then flee.
It is not known if Huston or Brooke are suspects in any previous break-ins, Powers said. Charges against them in Saturday's robbery are pending, and the investigation into the robbery and crash is continuing.
Mrs. Miller, 55, who has run the Christian bookstore with her daughter and granddaughter since 1994, said she was glad to learn that the two men were not killed in the crash.
"I mean, they've gotten another chance, right?" she said.