BAKER COUNTY, Fla. – A 26-year-old Papa John's driver, who police say was kidnapped at gunpoint Saturday, described the terrifying ordeal that began with a pizza delivery on the Westside and ended with a daring escape from the trunk of a moving car.
The driver asked not to be identified, so we're going to call her "Jane."
When Jane showed up at the delivery address Saturday on South Lane Avenue, a man was already waiting outside, she said.
That man was later identified by investigators as 32-year-old Cornelius Ruise III. He is being held without bail in Baker County on charges of false imprisonment, arson and grand theft.
Jane said she wasn't worried that the man was waiting outside the home, because it was daylight and customers sometimes wait outside.
But then he said he would go get his money -- and walked to the side of the house. She said she thought that was slightly off.
That's when the man came back with a rifle.
Jane said a woman walked by right at that moment, but she decided to stay quiet because she didn't know what the man might do. She said he shoved her into the passenger seat of her silver Mazda 3 and began driving.
Jane asked the kidnapper if he could just take the car and leave her.
He said no.
“He said that someone (in Lake City) did him wrong, and he needed to go and kill them,” Jane said. “He said, 'I'm not going to kill you, but I'm going to go kill this other guy.'”
Trapped in trunk
Jane said the man told her she needed to cooperate. That's when he pulled onto a secluded side street and forced her into the trunk.
Jane spent the next 30 minutes or so alone in the dark, hot trunk. Investigators said Ruise was driving west down Interstate 10 toward Macclenny.
Jane said the emergency release handle inside the trunk was glowing, and she knew at some point, she'd have to make her move.
“At one point, he did stop,” she said. “I'm not sure what he was doing. He stopped, and I considered opening it at that point, but I wasn't sure if that was the right time. I couldn't see anything in there.”
She said it took her about half the ride to gather the courage to pull the handle.
The first time she did, it broke. But she managed to get it open.
"I knew once I pulled that trunk lever there was no going back,” Jane said. “I don't even remember deciding to jump out. I just did."
The car was going about 40 mph, slowing to exit from I-10 to State Road 121 in Baker County.
Bill Lamb was riding with his adult son a few cars behind the Mazda.
He said they saw a woman’s hand waving out the back of the car and thought someone was kidding around.
But as the car began to exit onto S.R. 121, the woman opened the trunk all the way, sat up and dangled her legs over the side.
He said in that moment, he knew the situation was definitely serious.
'Didn't want to look back'
Lamb said they saw Jane tumble out of the trunk and hit her head on the asphalt.
“It did hurt, but it was kind of like a far-away pain. My primary focus was getting out,” Jane said. “I knew that something had happened to my head because I was falling over. It was really hard to stand up straight, but once I was able to get myself straight up, I did run. I didn't want to look back because I knew that would slow me down, too.”
Lamb turned his truck around and drove toward Jane in the service lane of I-10 until he caught up with her. He said at first she was really scared, but once she realized he was there to help, she began crying and telling him what happened.
"The emotion and everything was catching up to her, and she was speaking out loud, concerned for her family and concerned what was going to happen next, whether the guy was actually going to come back or not, and lots of emotions coming out in that," Lamb said. "The whole situation was really hard to comprehend at the time, just kind of reacting as the moment goes along, and then it's not until a little bit later you start reflecting back on what could have happened."
Lamb said Jane's elbow and back had road rash, and she had a gash on the back of her head. He and his son gave her something to try to stop the bleeding and waited with her until help arrived.
She was taken to a hospital, where she got staples in her head and was treated for her scrapes and bruises.
Jane said that she’s shaken up, but she's glad she chose to jump from the trunk.
She said she was focused on making it home to her children and her husband.
Accused kidnapper surrenders
According to investigators, after Jane jumped from the trunk, Ruise drove her car to Union County, where he attempted to rob a Dollar General, then visited family members in Lake Butler, who told police he bragged about the robbery and kidnapping.
Family members told police that Ruise mentioned that he still planned on driving to Lake City, but intended on “torching the car” first. Shortly after, Baker County deputies responded to a car fire near Quail Lane in Macclenny – an area police said Ruise frequented in the past. After arriving, deputies confirmed the car belonged to Jane.
Ruise's family made a heartfelt plea for him to turn himself in, which he did Sunday night at the Baker County Sheriff's Office.
Jane said she wanted to thank Ruise’s family for convincing him to surrender.
"I said, 'Let's do the right thing,'" Tenia Ruise, Cornelius Ruise's mother, said. "Let me either call the police to come and get you ... if you don't want that, I will put you in my car, and we'll take you there."
Deputies said Ruise, a convicted drug dealer who served six years in prison, eventually will be taken back to Duval County to face the more severe charges against him, including abduction and grand theft auto.