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Jewelry store employee thrown from car hood while chasing thief (w/video)

BRANDON — Jean Celestin wasn't going to let the jewelry thief get away without a chase.

But his determination cost him.

Celestin, 40, was working at Mirage Diamonds & Fine Jewelry in the Westfield Brandon mall Tuesday when a man came in about 7 p.m. and asked to see some jewelry, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. Surveillance footage from inside the store shows Celestin slipping a wide gold necklace over the man's head. The man looks at himself in a countertop mirror for a moment, then sprints out of the store with the necklace and a bracelet valued at nearly $25,000, deputies said.

Celestin, dressed in a shirt and tie, gave chase.

"We heard screaming of, 'Wait!' and then saw two men running toward Dillard's," said John Meidan, who was working at nearby Evalectric kiosk. Surveillance video from the kiosk shows the thief dashing out of the jewelry store and then Celestin emerging about two seconds later.

The thief got into a late-model silver Chevrolet Camaro.

Celestin, deputies said, jumped onto the hood.

He clung there for nearly a quarter-mile as the thief drove north out of the parking lot and onto Brandon Town Center Drive. Celestin was thrown to the pavement at the intersection with Brandon Boulevard and critically injured. He was taken to a local hospital with what deputies said were life-threatening injuries.

The thief was last seen entering Interstate 75 north. Deputies said he is a black male, about 6 feet 1 and 25 to 30 years old. He was wearing a dark blue hat, black T-shirt, dark-colored long pants and black shoes.

Celestin's condition was unavailable Wednesday, and efforts by the Tampa Bay Times to reach family members were unsuccessful.

Retail workers should resist the urge to go to extreme measures to thwart a thief, said Larry McKinnon, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Office. Instead, focus on getting a good description of the robber and other details, such as the make and model and license plate number of a getaway car.

"It's all property that can be replaced and human life can't," McKinnon said. "It's better to be a good witness and not escalate it into a dangerous situation."

Anyone with information about the robber is asked to call the Sheriff's Office at (813) 247-8200, or call Crime Stoppers at toll-free 1-800-873-TIPS (8477) or visitcrimestopperstb.com.

Contact Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

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