PLANT CITY — Multiple law enforcement agencies are searching for an armed man responsible for a string of Wednesday morning carjackings, including one that involved gunfire, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
Authorities described the suspect as a black male, about 6 feet tall and 30 to 40 years old, who was last seen driving a green 2002 Ford pickup truck southbound on Thonotosassa Road toward Plant City. The truck has Florida tags with license plate number 937 9TJ.
The dramatic events unfolded within about an hour’s time span, Sheriff’s Office spokesman Cpl. Larry McKinnon said.
"We don’t know who he is but obviously he has some very serious issues here he doesn’t want to be found," McKinnon said. "I don’t know what those issues are but were considering him very dangerous and obviously armed."
The man was on the run after he carjacked a 2009 Cadillac in Orlando just before 10 a.m., said Sgt. Steve Gaskins, a spokesman for the Florida Highway Patrol. Polk County sheriff’s deputies spotted him driving the Cadillac into Hillsborough County, causing a minor hit and run crash before abandoning the vehicle on the Interstate 4 entrance ramp near the intersection of Thonotosassa Road and Marshall Drive in Plant City, Gaskins said.
The suspect ran across the I-4 exit ramp and into a neighboring residential area lining Thonotosassa Road. An unidentified male resident watched as the suspect stole his green Ford pickup truck from his driveway and immediately jumped in his other vehicle, a red Ford pickup, and tailed the thief to a nearby Marathon gas station, McKinnon said.
The suspect and the truck’s owner got into an argument at the station’s parking lot, and the suspect fired two shots at the man, McKinnon said. The bullets missed the man and hit the driver door, Gaskins said.
"It’s by the grace of God this guy wasn’t shot," McKinnon said. "Any confrontation like that can turn into a life-ending event because you never know who your dealing with, and this victim easily could have lost his life over something as insignificant as stolen property."
The suspect then fled southbound on Thonotosassa Road in the truck, ditching an attached trailer at a gas station after driving under the I-4 overpass, McKinnon said.
Sheriff’s deputies were joined in the search by officers from the Florida Highway Patrol, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and the Plant City Police Department.