Witnesses: Manatee County police chase dangerous but not improper

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MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. -- We're learning more about the high-speed police chase through Manatee County on March 2 that resulted in damage to nearly two-dozen vehicles.

Manatee County Sheriff's deputies say a 16-year-old runaway from Arcadia stole a pick up truck from a window-tinting shop on 60th Street West in Bradenton and took off.

An eyewitness described the scene as the suspect drove west on Cortez and erratically approached the bridge.

"We were doing some work on the parking lot and we saw the truck at a high rate of speed heading west, and heard it coming and then saw the pursuit of the officers behind him." says Bobby Woodson, owner of Tide Tables Restaurant.

A business owner on Cortez saw the truck on its second loop around and says it's a miracle no one was killed or seriously injured.

"He was running on his rims pretty fast through here, and all you could hear was all the medal screeching up and down and hitting the cars as he was going down the road." says Tillman Thomas, owner of Plain & Fancy Produce.

The Manatee County Sheriff's Office says damage to at least nine of the 23 vehicles involved occurred after the pursuit was called off.

Florida's "fresh pursuit law" and the Manatee County Sheriff's Office pursuit policy allow deputies to pursue a felon -- but they must use discretion regarding public safety.

The pursuit policy says: "If the suspect accelerates and begins to operate in a more dangerous manner, the deputy shall terminate the pursuit."

Since at least six cars were hit before the sheriff's unit decided to call off the pursuit, ABC 7 asked if proper discretion was used by the pursuing deputies.

"It's a double-edged sword you have to look at," says William Tokajur, Chief of Holmes Beach Police.  "Is it going to be more damaging to pursue or more damaging to let the car drive erratically, driving people off the road without any warning?" 

The Manatee County pursuit policy says only two units can pursue a felon -- but eyewitnesses say they saw many deputies following the suspect.

"There had to be 10 people after him, and every time we turn around there was more going, so there was a major, major response," Woodson says.

Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach police say they did not pursue and only provided assistance.

"Once the helicopter got on him, and I was watching when he came through, Sheriff's Office vehicles were very far back," says Sgt. Lenard Diaz of the Bradenton Beach police. "He was still driving at a high rate of speed."

Bradenton Beach police and the Sheriff's units say they were able to apprehend the teen after he crashed and got stuck on the bridge.

The 16-year-old suspect has been identified by police as Francisco Sanchez Ibarra of Arcadia. He is being held at the Manatee Regional Juvenile Detention Center and faces multiple charges, including Grand Theft Auto and Aggravated Fleeing to Elude.