A teenager was taken into custody early Thursday morning after leading police on a wild chase ending at St. Francis High School, where he allegedly caused thousands of dollars in property damages before fleeing the scene.
The 13-year-old was first spotted near SW 40th Terrace by a Gainesville police officer after several citizens warned of a white van driving recklessly in the area, according to Gainesville Police Department spokesman Ben Tobias. The officer saw the van run two stop lights and drive into oncoming traffic. When trying to stop the vehicle, the van then fled through a hotel parking lot back onto Archer Road before getting onto I-75 northbound, narrowly missing other vehicles.
It was then that a GPD supervisor called off the pursuit due to public safety reasons, according to Tobias.
“Our pursuit policy is very restrictive,” he said. “It’s been widely found that drivers are going to drive even worse when they know the police are chasing them.”
GPD continues to pursue in cases where the driver has committed a violent felony or if the driving was causing significant health risks to bystanders.
“We’re talking (when) they’re already hitting pedestrians, already crashing into vehicles, that kind of extreme nature,” Tobias said. “Based on this one yes, it was horrible driving, but it did not rise to that level of that extreme danger where we felt it was safe to do so.”
GPD did contact other local agencies.
The Alachua County sheriff’s office was aware of the situation when a deputy spotted the van on NW 39th Avenue west of the interstate, according to spokesman Art Forgey.
The deputy turned around to follow the van when it then turned into the driveway of St. Francis High School, crashing through the gate. As the deputy got closer, the deputy said the teenager then drove out onto the baseball field and ran through two batting cages.
“Those two batting cages were valued at $5,000 a piece,” Forgey said.
The van became stuck inside one of the cages. The teenager then reportedly got out of the vehicle and used a blowtorch to set it on fire before fleeing the scene.
Forgey said the incident was very unusual.
“That’s not something we typically see,” he said.
When more deputies arrived at the scene, they were able to form a perimeter and, using K-9 tracking, took the teenager into custody on multiple charges.
According to Forgey, the teenager’s mother and owner of the van was not aware of what had happened until after authorities contacted her. She has since pressed charges against her son.
Kathleen Bagg, director of communications of the Diocese of St. Augustine, said a claim will be filed, but could not offer specific details as to how St. Francis High School will be handling the damage.