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Man accused of taking hostage caught after police chase, manhunt

Leon Criswell found hiding up tree in woods in Micanopy area, police say

Booking photo of Leon Criswell
Booking photo of Leon Criswell

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A 911 call about a man being held hostage inside a Jeep led to a police chase and a manhunt that ended when the suspect was found hiding in a tree in the woods, according to Gainesville police.

Leon Criswell is facing charges of false imprisonment and fleeing police.

Police said a 911 call came in about 7:30 p.m. Monday, saying that a man who was high on narcotics had taken another man against his will in a vehicle and was holding him hostage in the Jeep.

A responding officer found the vehicle as it turned west on SE 7th Avenue from SE 11th Street in the Springhill neighborhood, but when she tried to pull the Jeep over, the driver, later identified as Criswell, accelerated, and the officer pursued, police said.

Gainesville police called the Alachua County Sheriff's Office for backup, and another officer was able to cut over from the interstate as the pursuit continued and intercepted the Jeep near Micanopy, police said.

After a 13-mile chase, Criswell turned onto SE 165th Avenue, jumped out of the Jeep and ran off into a wooded area behind the Sunoco gas station, police said.

Officers were able to talk to the hostage, who confirmed the information from the 911 call. The hostage was not injured, police said.

Gainesville police, Alachua County deputies and Florida Highway Patrol troopers set up a large search area, and K-9 units were called in to track Criswell in the woods. An air unit helping in the search noticed a hot spot in the wooded area, and a K-9 team moved in to the area and found Criswell hiding up a tree, police said.

He came down and was taken into custody without incident, police said.

Investigators said the man Criswell held hostage had allowed Criswell to borrow his Jeep, but when he went to pick the vehicle up, Criswell forced him into the vehicle, drove off and wouldn't let him get out.

Criswell is being held in the Alachua County Jail on $75,000 bond.