5 suspects in stolen DCF employee’s SUV caused massive traffic jam on I-4

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Did you get stuck in that huge traffic jam yesterday on Interstate-4 in Hillsborough County? It turns out that five suspects in a stolen SUV made life miserable for you.

The bizarre chain of events started Sunday, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

A 16-year-old girl was released on Sunday from the Juvenile Assessment Center for violation of parole and was at the Florida Department of Children and Families with an employee of Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services.

While they were waiting to transport the 16-year-old to a group home, the girl went into the employee’s purse, removed her keys and stole her 2016 Nissan Rogue from the parking lot.

After the 16-year-old girl stole the SUV, detectives say the girl, a 17-year-old boy and 20-year-old Dustin Cheasebro committed an armed robbery at a Lakeland convenience store.

At 10:12 a.m. on Monday, Lakeland police spotted the trio in the stolen SUV near the area of Lavon Street and Kathleen Road in Lakeland.

The driver then fled from officers and a pursuit began that continued westbound on Interstate 4. The stolen Nissan Rogue reached speeds of more than 100 mph during the pursuit.

Upon attempting to change lanes near mile marker 2, the driver of the stolen vehicle lost control and hit  a transport van and crashed at 10:35 a.m.

The driver ran away, leaving behind the other occupants of the vehicle.

Authorities closed down the westbound lanes of Interstate-4 near mile marker 2 and Interstate 275.

A Lakeland PD K9 caught the driver a short distance away. The driver was identified as a 17-year-old male.

The driver, the 16-year-old girl, Dustin Cheasebro, and two other suspects were transported to Tampa General Hospital for treatment of minor injuries.

The area surrounding the vehicle crash was cordoned off with assistance from the Tampa Police Department, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and Florida Highway Patrol. The closure caused traffic to back up for miles.

During this investigation, the teenagers and Cheasebro admitted to deputies that they committed the armed robbery on Sunday evening at the Circle K. located at 4415 Old Kathleen Road in Lakeland.

Detectives say the suspects told them that Cheasebro approached the counter armed with a pistol and demanded a carton of Newport cigarettes — valued at $100 — and money from the two registers.

“How many examples of juveniles committing serious crimes do we need for the Department of Juvenile Justice to understand this is a problem? We have a 16-year-old and a 17-year-old committing robbery with a firearm and fleeing from officers in a pursuit. They are lucky they didn’t hurt themselves or anyone else. I’m thankful for the Lakeland Police Department, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, and Florida Highway Patrol for their assistance in getting these dangerous suspects behind bars,” said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.

Detectives say they found the .22 caliber pistol that was used and clothing worn by Cheasebro during the robbery. Detectives also found Newport cigarettes and money inside the vehicle.

Cheasebro and the two teenagers were charged with robbery with a firearm and conspiracy to commit robbery. The 16-year-old girl was also charged with grand theft of a motor vehicle, petit theft and violation of parole.

Details have not been released about the other two people in the stolen vehicle.

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