The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office (SJSO) is investigating a stolen car incident that took place Thursday night in Ponte Vedra, creating a chaotic scene and causing concern for local residents.
According to a SJSO police report, the incident took place at the Gate gas station on U.S. 1 North near Nocatee. It ensued after SJSO was alerted that two cars stolen out of Baker County were in the area. An SJSO deputy spotted one of the stolen vehicles — a black Ford Taurus — in the parking lot of the Gate store and awaited backup. After seeing the car’s reverse lights come on, the deputy pulled up behind the vehicle to block it and as the deputy approached, two men exited the vehicle and fled on foot.
The suspects have not been found, and SJSO Cmdr. Chuck Mulligan said it’s highly possible that they were picked up by accomplices in the other stolen vehicle.
“Based on historical knowledge, it’s not abnormal for these individuals to work in teams,” Mulligan said. “It is very much a strategic cat-and-mouse game.”
According to SJSO, three handguns were found in the vehicle, two of which were reported to be stolen out of Baker and Duval counties, and an exhaustive search for the suspects was conducted by SJSO deputies in conjunction with members of the Florida Highway Patrol, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and members of the SJSO S.W.A.T. team.
“They were able to get out before we had enough personnel to close off every avenue of escape, which is difficult to do,” Mulligan said. “But that’s what we attempted to do last night, that’s why there were so many officers on the scene.”
Mulligan said it’s also believed the individuals may have had a firearm on them because deputies heard four or five gunshots near the area shortly after the suspects fled. But Mulligan said it has not been verified that the gunshots were connected to the stolen car incident.
SJSO is encouraging residents to keep their car doors locked and to remove any valuables, especially firearms, from vehicles. Mulligan said the No. 1 crime in St. Johns County is burglary of unlocked cars.
“We have to ask ourselves: What were the two stolen cars coming into St. Johns County for around 10 o’clock at night?” he said. “We can only assume they were looking to go into a neighborhood and commit more car burglaries and car thefts.”
Mulligan also said it’s important for residents not to become complacent just because they may live in low-crime areas.
“People need to understand that criminals travel,” he said. “You could live in the most wonderful community, the most wonderful county, the most wonderful neighborhood where everyone who lives there is wonderful, but that doesn’t mean that someone who is not so wonderful won’t drive a stolen car into your neighborhood and create chaos.”
SJSO is looking for possible video footage of the suspects in an attempt to identify them. Anyone with information on the incident should contact the SJSO at (904)824-8304.