ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. - Detectives are investigating a series of crimes early Wednesday morning that include numerous car burglaries in Fruit Cove, a driver of a stolen pickup truck speeding toward a deputy, and a driver of another stolen car leading deputies on a high-speed chase across county lines, according to the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office.
Two Jacksonville teenagers, ages 16 and 15, were arrested in connection with at least one of the car burglaries, the Sheriff's Office announced late Wednesday afternoon.
Elijah Bradley, 16, is charged with car burglary, grand theft, carrying a concealed weapon, possession of burglary tools, escape and possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana. Dylan Thurston, 15, is facing car burglary and theft charges.
It started about 1:30 a.m. near Fruit Cove Terrace and State Road 13 in the Lemonwood community. A deputy patrolling in the area noticed a suspicious pickup truck near the driveway of an off-duty deputy's home. As the deputy exited his vehicle and started to approach the truck, the driver of that truck accelerated toward him, the Sheriff's Office said.
That's when the deputy drew his pistol and fired at the tires, as he jumped out of the pathway of the truck, investigators said. The deputy suffered minor bumps and bruises, according to the Sheriff's Office.
The truck, which investigators learned had been stolen nearly 23 hours earlier in Ponte Vedra Beach, was later discovered about a block away on Kumquat Lane. The truck was abandoned and had a flat tire.
The off-duty deputy woke up to the sound of that gunshot, went outside and found that his marked patrol car had been broken into.
Less than three hours later, as deputies and K-9 teams were searching for the suspects in connection with the recovery of stolen truck and numerous car burglaries, deputies said, they spotted a blue Audi A4, which was stolen out of Jacksonville Beach in Duval County, traveling in the area.
The driver of the Audi did not stop, and led deputies on a high-speed chase about 4 a.m. and into Jacksonville, according to the Sheriff's Office. The chase was called off near Interstate 295 and Philips Highway on the city's Southside. Deputies said the stolen Audi with Florida tag DHP-M58 and the people in that car have not been located. Investigators said it's unknown if the people in the Audi are connected to the car break-ins.
Later in the morning, deputies responded just before 8 a.m. to the report of two suspicions young men in the parking lot of the Publix at Julington Village on State Road 13 in Julington Creek. The older one, who was later identified as Bradley, was armed with a handgun and tried to run away from a deputy, but was taken into custody after a short foot chase, the Sheriff's Office said.
Deputies said the gun was traced back to a car burglary just after midnight Wednesday on Orangewood Drive.
The second person, who was identified as Thurston, was found in possession of a woman's watch that was reported stolen from a vehicle burglary Tuesday night on Lakewood Drive, deputies said.
Both teenage boys were booked into the county jail and turned over to juvenile justice authorities.
Fruit Cove residents shocked
Many of the neighborhood's residents said they have lived there for years, and during that time, they have never heard of anything like this happening. Neighbors said they were shocked to see and hear what they experienced Wednesday morning.
Vicky Watkins said it was her dog, Chance, that woke her up -- barking and running through the yard. She got worried and called 911. Then came the sound of something she didn’t expect.
"I heard the yelling, and then I heard a motor, a car that was revving up the motor like it was lunging forward. And then I heard a bang. I guess that was the gunshot," Watkins said.
Investigators said that was the gunshot fired by the deputy, and the bullet hit the tire of the fleeing truck.
About the same time, down the street, a home surveillance camera caught burglars in the act. On the surveillance footage, crooks can be seen going through a parked car, which was unlocked, in the driveway. Later in the video, deputies are seen walking down the street, searching for evidence.
"I hope and wish that it didn't have to come to something like this, I just believe everyone should start locking the doors anyway," said one neighbor, who did not wish to be indetified.
One man told News4Jax that sunglasses were taken from his wife’s car. Another woman said her mother’s GPS was stolen. All of those vehicles were left unlocked.
Watkins said she may make some other changes, just to be safe.
"I always felt safe, and I still do. But this was just a shocker," Watkins said. "I'm sure my front porch light was on. But I didn't have a camera and I think I am going to get a camera."
Detectives are asking residents in the area to check any surveillance cameras that may have captured suspicious activity overnight and share that video with them.
Anyone with any additional information is asked to contact detectives with the Sheriff's Office Major Crimes Unit, who continue to investigate. To remain anonymous and possibly be eligible for a cash reward, call Crime Stoppers at 1-888-277-TIPS.
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