Only on 8: Driver tries to chase stolen car because he thinks toddler is in back

Charles Long, Pinellas County Jail booking photo

CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) – A Pinellas County man is sharing his story tonight about one heck of a wild ride.

Charles Long, 60, thought he was following a stolen car with a toddler in the back. It turns out, that child was safe at daycare the whole time, but Long had no idea and neither did anyone else.

Long heard the story that was plastered all over the Tampa Bay area about the stolen car with a 3-year-old boy in the back seat. He also heard a description of the car.

Long then spotted that car along busy US 19 and started following it, weaving in and out of traffic at speeds of 85 miles an hour. He did what he thought was the right thing.

“Your body kind of goes into a fight or flight mode and you have no control over that,” Long said in an exclusive interview with News Channel 8. “And my body said, do the right thing. I’m a Christian.”

As he tried to get the plate number so he could call 911, Long then found himself smack dab in the middle of at least a dozen cop cars.

Moments later, his part of the chase came to an end as he crashed into a cruiser. “They grabbed me and jerked me out of the car and threw me in the back of a police car,” Long said.

As for the car he was chasing, it wound up wrapped around a sign.

Long said all he wanted to do was make sure the child got safely out of the car. But, everyone later learned that the toddler’s mother had lied, and the little boy was safe at daycare the entire time.

Police say as tempting as it might be, don’t try to do their jobs for them. An arrest affidavit said that Long interfered with the police pursuit and followed directly in front of and in between police vehicles “with wanton disregard to the safety of the public.

The affidavit said Long told officers the following: “I want to be a police officer. I wanted to be in the pursuit for you guys.”

He was arrested on a charge of reckless driving with property damage or injury.

“Just imagine for a moment, if you will, if everybody decided to do what he did. We would have quite a mess on our hands,” Clearwater police spokesman Rob Shaw said.

Long said he wouldn’t do it again. “I would have pulled over to the side of the ride and gotten the heck out of the way and let the police do their job, none of my damn business,” he said.

He did say he had no idea the car was equipped with a GPS system. He said he originally just spotted one cop car, so he didn’t think they were going to catch up with the suspects.

Long hopes the judge will be lenient especially since he has no criminal record.

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