A 5-year-old girl died after being thrown from a bridge into Tampa Bay early Thursday and her father is facing first-degree murder charges, St. Petersburg police say.
" ... we ran right over where the tide was going one way, and the wind breaking the opposite way- where I thought she would be."
- Bobby Hay, fisherman who aided in rescue effort
The incident occurred just after midnight, according to MyFoxTampaBay. The girl was pulled from the water and Tampa Police spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez told The Associated Press rescuers who found the girl tried to resuscitate her, but she was pronounced dead at a local hospital 2:44 a.m. Thursday.
John Nicholas Jonchuck's daughter, Phoebe, fell about 60 feet over the Sunshine Skyway bridge into the bay, St. Petersburg police Chief Anthony Holloway said at a news conference.
Fernandez said in an earlier statement that a St. Petersburg police officer saw the suspect throw the girl in the water. A St. Petersburg Police Officer was heading home southbound toward the bridge when he said a Chrysler PT Cruiser passed him going about 100 miles per hour. Once he'd reached the top of the bridge and entered the approach to the Skyway, the officer said the driver stopped his white PT Cruiser.
Holloway said Jonchuck, 25, got out and started toward the officer, who pulled his weapon. But Jonchuck went around to the passenger side of the car and got the child out.
The officer "thought he heard the child scream, but he wasn't sure," Holloway said. The officer then saw the man throw the child over, into the strong bay current.
Jonchuck then got back in the car and drove south for about 30 minutes before officials said Manatee County authorities stopped him near an exit.
"The suspect drove off," Holloway said. "He just drove off."
Holloway said Jonchuck turned his blinker on and stopped before starting again and driving toward deputies. He then headed the wrong way on the interstate, going back toward the bridge. Deputies put out traffic spikes to stop the vehicle.
Jonchuck was arrested and brought back to St. Petersburg for questioning. He's being held without bond on the murder charge.
Police said Jonchuck was not cooperating with authorities questioning him.
"He lawyered up," Holloway said. "He really didn't want to talk."
Jail records didn't list the name of Jonchuck's attorney. But Jonchuck is scheduled for an initial court appearance Thursday afternoon.
In addition to the murder charge, Jonchuck also faces charges of aggravated assault with a motor vehicle on a law enforcement officer and aggravated fleeing and eluding police.
Jonchuck was arrested in 2013 on battery domestic violence charges in Hillsborough County and placed on probation, according to TampaBayonline.com. He also was charged with driving under the influence in 2013, records show.
Authorities said Jonchuck filed a domestic violence report against the child's mother last month, but it wasn't granted. He had custody of the child, and they lived with his father in Tampa. Authorities didn't release information about the girl's mother.
An autopsy is pending.
Two fishermen in the area told MyFoxTampaBay they were not far from the scene when it all went down. They approached the search parties, saw a flashlight coming from land and were soon asked by a member of law enforcement if they would lend a hand in the search.
"He said, 'You know the waters; take me where you think she'll possibly be,'" Bobby Hay, one of the fishermen said. "So we ran right over where the tide was going one way, and the wind breaking the opposite way -- where I thought she would be."
They received a call about 40 minutes later that another search crew from the Eckerd College Search and Rescue found Phoebe.
"We weren't far off," said Hay.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.