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Car theft suspects arrested after chase

A reminder to anyone driving a stolen vehicle: Longboat Key has license cameras. Just ask the four people who were arrested last week after a high-speed chase.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. October 7, 2015
Longboat Key Police Sergeant Lee Smith and Officer Ray Bergeron activated their squad car lights in the 5400 block of Gulf Of Mexico Drive Sept. 30, which started a chase on the north end of the Key.
Longboat Key Police Sergeant Lee Smith and Officer Ray Bergeron activated their squad car lights in the 5400 block of Gulf Of Mexico Drive Sept. 30, which started a chase on the north end of the Key.
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If you’re driving a stolen car, you might want to steer clear of Longboat Key. Its police department, along with neighboring island departments will chase you down by car, foot and even through canals.

That’s what four suspects with potential ties to the Sept. 26 burglary of six vehicles learned when they were arrested just after midnight Sept. 30, on Lyons Lane after a high-speed chase that started on Gulf of Mexico Drive ended with suspects running through yards and swimming through three canals to evade police.

The Key’s south-end license plate camera alerted police at 12:05 a.m. Sept. 30 that a 2006 four-door white Buick sedan driving onto the Key was listed as stolen in Manatee County.

Longboat Key police Sgt. Lee Smith and Officer Ray Bergeron prepared to stop the vehicle in the 5400 block of Gulf of Mexico Drive, but the Buick accelerated to 85 mph to evade police when the lights on both squad cars were activated.

The high-speed chase prompted police to stop pursuing the suspects per Longboat Key policy, which is to disengage the pursuit in the interest of public safety if the incident involves a nonviolent crime.

But police weren’t done searching for the suspects.


The arrest

Longboat Key police notified Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach police and the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office that the Buick was headed toward their jurisdictions.

Two minutes later, a Bradenton Beach police officer informed Longboat Key police the Buick turned east onto General Harris Street, which is a dead-end street with four dead-end side streets.

The Buick was located abandoned at 773 Penfield St., and the Sheriff’s Office deployed an air support team and K-9 deputy support to locate the suspects on foot.

A track for the suspects led police to a boat dock that was wet behind a home at 513 Norton St.

A Manatee County Sheriff’s deputy later observed four suspects walking west on Lyons Street toward his squad car who were “totally wet and covered in crushed shells.” The suspects swam across three canals to reach Lyons Lane. They were arrested on Lyons Lane by two Holmes Beach police officers.

Ron Maurice Johnson Jr., the driver of the Buick, was charged with grand theft of an automobile and fleeing and eluding police.

Johnathon Hunter, Alexia Simmons and Brianna Scarbrough, all passengers in the Buick, were arrested on charges of grand theft of an automobile and trespassing in a conveyance, defined as willful entry in the stolen car.


Crime links

Longboat Key Police Chief Pete Cumming said the Buick has been linked to five auto burglaries in the 500 and 600 blocks of Bayview Drive and one auto burglary on De Narvaez Drive, all of which occurred Sept. 26.

On Bayview Drive, a rental car with keys left in the ignition was reported stolen at 7:41 a.m. Sept. 27. While the officer was conducting that investigation, a couple reported their iPad mini, a knife and loose change, valued at a combined $475, were stolen from their two vehicles. Three other Bayview Drive property owners reported their glove boxes and papers had been rifled through in their vehicles. The next day, a couple in the 500 block of De Narvaez Drive reported their cars were broken into, and approximately $500 worth of items were stolen.

The Buick wasn’t yet listed as stolen Sept. 26, when it entered and exited the Key at the time that the vehicle thefts and burglaries occurred.

Cumming said the suspects are also linked to crimes in Sarasota and Bradenton, and additional charges are anticipated.

“The suspects involved are habitual offenders and career criminals,” Cumming said. “This came together nicely, and I’m hopeful this incident reminds thieves that if you come out to Longboat Key, we have cameras watching you and you will be caught.”

Longboat Key commissioners praised Cumming and his officers for their work in helping to catch the suspects in emails.

“Pete, you should be very proud of your department and your officers for a job well done,” wrote Mayor Jack Duncan. “These are the types of stories that make all of the residents of Longboat Key feel safe and secure in what at times can be a threatening world. 

Commissioner Pat Zunz, meanwhile, emailed Town Manager Dave Bullock Sept. 30 to point out the event “illustrates my concern about our vulnerability to criminal activity from areas around us.”

“But this also illustrates the professionalism and ability of our police officers,” Zunz wrote. 

In a followup email, Cumming thanked commissioners for their remarks, writing: “I am proud of each member of our team and believe this collection of troops is among the best in the business.”


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