FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla. – Flagler deputies on the lookout for a BMW with a stolen tag found it Wednesday evening, employing spike strips to eventually stop the car on Interstate 95, arrest the three men inside and recover 13 hacked-off catalytic converters stowed in the trunk.
The tag that the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office was looking for had been reported stolen out of Osceola County on Dec. 17, according to charging affidavits. Two deputies on Palm Coast Parkway Northwest saw the car traveling east in westbound lanes with its light off after 6 p.m. Wednesday, proceeding to follow the vehicle at a safe distance until more backup could arrive due to the stolen plate, the affidavits state.
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Now traveling west on the roadway, the BMW continued until its driver made a U-turn onto Palm Coast Parkway Southeast, its unobstructed path until encountering stop sticks at Belle Terre Parkway that ruptured at least two tires, deputies said.
The BMW sped up after Flagler deputies in pursuit switched on their vehicles’ emergency lights, the suspect car at one point reaching speeds of around 80 mph in a 45 mph zone, the affidavits state. It continued west until reaching I-95 and entering southbound lanes at mile marker 289, at which point the units behind the BMW turned their emergency lights off yet still followed. All of the BMW’s lights were seen to have been turned off and the vehicle’s behavior became more erratic, with deputies watching as sparks reportedly began to fly from the exposed wheels.
Eventually, deputies said the BMW came to final rest at mile marker 279, near Bunnell. Video shared by the sheriff’s office shows the high-risk traffic stop that ensued:
From the car emerged 18-year-old Shancello Gazich, 19-year-old Michael Antunez and 25-year-old Franko Louis, records show. After clearing the car’s cabin, deputies had their guns drawn as they opened its trunk, prepared to find someone hiding inside.
Instead, 13 catalytic converters gleamed in the light of deputies’ high-beams, with at least one unit matched to a work vehicle that had been harvested earlier that day, the affidavits state.
Otherwise, deputies said they found multiple ski masks, Sawzalls and saw blades in the car, as well as a New York tag reported stolen out of Palm Beach County on Dec. 1 and a Florida tag registered to the BMW.
None of the men claimed ownership of the license plates, convertors or tools found in the car, leading deputies to recommend identical charges for all involved of petit theft from a motor vehicle, criminal mischief over $10,000, grand theft of motor vehicle parts, burglary of an unoccupied conveyance and possession of burglary tools, the affidavits state.
Gazich, the BMW’s driver, faces additional charges of fleeing and eluding law enforcement with lights and sirens at high speeds, reckless driving, failing to obey police, possession of marijuana under 20 grams, possession of drug paraphernalia and knowingly driving with a suspended license, the affidavits state.
All were booked at the Flagler County jail. Antuez and Louis have since been released after respectively posting $10,500 bond while Gazich, who was given a total bond amount of $46,500, remains behind bars, records show.
Flagler detectives are still investigating the thefts, according to the sheriff’s office.
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