A truck stolen in Pasco County winds up crashed in Floral City after a chase that reached speeds of 115 mph, police say.
Up from Tampa on work, David Littrell made his first trip down Orange Avenue Thursday morning, and he was pleasantly surprised to discover the arching oaks and historic homes lining the main stretch in this tiny town.
He had time to kill before a noon appointment in Inverness, so he slowed to read the plaques and eye the old wood-frame houses.
"I was taking it all in," he said.
Good thing he was not speeding: It made it that much easier for the big-city trouble bearing down on his bumper to blow by, and for law enforcement to put the brakes on a strange tale that began nearly four hours earlier in Pasco County.
In Littrell's rearview mirror it had looked innocent enough, young women driving a white pickup truck. Then he realized how fast they were approaching. Then he saw the flashing lights _ a police officer, a deputy _ and then he saw the front end of his own Toyota Camry swerving off the road and churning into an embankment of historic soil.
Past him sped the truck, then the patrol cars, racing toward the narrow 90-degree turn where Orange Avenue meets U.S. 41. The driver turned hard right at Old Floral City Road, one street before U.S. 41.
But the front end of the Ford F-150 authorities say the women had stolen that morning did not make the turn and instead struck a metal pole supporting a sign for a grocery store.
The driver of the truck, Cody Rachael Register, 20, of Lacoochee, was arrested on seven counts: grand theft, resisting arrest without violence, reckless driving, fleeing and eluding a law enforcement officer, criminal mischief, driving without a valid driver's license and leaving the scene of an accident with property damage.
Register's 14-year-old passenger, whose name was not released, is accused of being a principal to first-degree felony.
Littrell saw the Bushnell police officer tackling Register in front of the bed and breakfast, the 14-year-old passenger holding up her hands while a Sumter County deputy held her at gunpoint.
He was there, too, when Rick West, 33, arrived to discover the front end of his pickup crushed against the pole.
Just a few minutes earlier, about 10:30 a.m., West had been heading to a landscaping job in Bushnell when to his astonishment he realized that the white pickup he saw pulling into the Farm Store on Main Street, the truck with the distinctive zigzagging stripes along the side, was the one he had reported stolen about 7 a.m. from his home 22 miles south in Dade City.
West called Bushnell police. A Sumter County Sheriff's deputy and Bushnell officer Tom Valdez soon responded. The women in the truck bolted. A man initially seen driving the truck ran from the store. He had not been apprehended late Thursday, but Dade City police officials are searching for him, Valdez said.
Valdez was at home dressing for his 11 a.m shift when he heard the call. He dashed to his cruiser and began searching the back streets between Main Street and County Road 48, which, 15 miles to the west in Floral City, becomes Orange Avenue.
He eventually spotted the truck heading for County Road 48 and he fell in behind, as did the deputy. Valdez said his speedometer climbed to 115 mph during the pursuit into Citrus County, though it dropped considerably once in Floral City.
After crashing, the driver jumped from the truck and ran, only to be taken down by Valdez.
Valdez said Register previously has been charged with two felonies and a misdemeanor, but he did not know the specific crimes.
Except for their involvement in the car theft, Valdez said the young women appeared to have no other reason to flee law enforcement. "They just said they were scared," he said.
Pursuing suspected car thieves at such high speeds is warranted, "as long as we're not endangering the public," Valdez said. "There wasn't a lot of traffic."
As the scene cleared, Littrell was carrying around a map asking for more specific directions to Inverness. And West was waiting on a tow truck.
Any idea why someone would creep into his yard and steal his truck, and then track the same path north to Bushnell that he did? "None," West said. "I've never seen these people before."