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Woman charged in crash that injured SJC deputy

FHP says Gwendolyn Hughes, 31, arrested after anonymous tip came in

Booking photo for Gwendolyn Hughes
Booking photo for Gwendolyn Hughes

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – A St. Augustine woman was arrested Saturday for a hit-and-run crash that injured a deputy early New Year's Day, according to the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office. 

The crash happened at about 2:15 a.m. Friday morning at the intersection of State Road 312 and U.S. 1.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Deputy Thomas Bickhart was traveling down S.R. 312 when his patrol cruiser was hit by a car that ran a red light and struck the right rear of the deputy's cruiser. The driver, now identified as 31-year-old Gwendolyn Hughes, fled from the crash, according to troopers.

Troopers said the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office received an anonymous tip on Saturday about a car with front-end damage being towed from a home on South Scenic Way in St. Augustine.

A deputy responded and stopped a red truck towing a trailer with a silver-colored VW Passat on it, matching the description of the suspect vehicle. 

It was missing its front bumper clip, which matched the one found at the scene of the crash.

Around 7 p.m. on Saturday, Hughes made contact with FHP and SJCSO in front of her house and admitted being the hit-and-run driver, according to troopers.

She was arrested and booked into jail.

Jail records show this isn't the first time Hughes has been arrested. She was arrested in 2004 for driving with a suspended or revoked license.

After the crash on New Year's Day, Bickhart attempted to chase down Hughes, but was unable to because of damages from the crash. He was taken to Flagler Hospital, where he was treated for minor injuries and released.

"I'm so glad that my brother is OK," Ashley Bickhart said in a statement. "To proceed to chase the suspect after being hit himself just shows how strong of a person he is. He's definitely someone I look up to and I'm very proud to be his sister."

News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said a driver who leaves the scene of an accident with injuries faces a minimum of four years in prison if convicted.

"What makes these situations so strange to me is that we have someone -- the other driver -- who is just driving down the street, not a criminal, not someone in the commission of a crime or planning to commit a crime, and then, within seconds, he hits someone and once he leaves, he's a fleeing felon," Smith said.

It isn’t the first time Bickhart’s patrol car has been hit. In 2012, a man rammed his cruiser and Bickhart had to be airlifted to UF Health's trauma center. The following year, he was awarded the Exceptional Service Award from the Sheriff David Shoar.