LAKELAND, Fla. – A brief hostage incident at a Florida McDonald's restaurant ended Saturday with the arrest of two suspected car thieves who were hiding inside and after authorities discovered a man was falsely claiming on social media to be a hostage.
Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee told reporters the two men were hiding in the restaurant's ceiling. A third suspect surrendered earlier in the day, shortly after the release of employees who were held hostage a short time.
Gee said the arrests were delayed by a man claiming falsely on social media and texts to family members that he was being held hostage inside. Apparently, Gee said, the man simply saw the incident on television and decided to make the false claims.
"He had nothing to do with it," Gee said. "He just seized on it and said he was being held."
It took hours for investigators to determine there was no hostage inside the restaurant. Gee said a bomb robot was deployed to check a bathroom where the man claimed he was hiding.
"That took a whole lot of time," the sheriff said.
The three suspected car thieves were in custody, although their names and potential charges against them were not immediately released. It was unclear if the fake hostage would also face charges, Gee said. His name also was not immediately released.
The sheriff said the incident unfolded about 7:30 a.m. when the stolen Dodge Charger was spotted by authorities on Interstate 4 near Lakeland, about 40 miles east of Tampa.
After a short chase the car crashed and the three occupants jumped out, then tried unsuccessfully to carjack someone in the drive-thru-line at the nearby McDonald's. It turned out that customer was armed with a gun.
The men then went inside through the drive-thru window and forced employees to the back. They were released unharmed, and no customers were taken hostage. Gee said two guns were recovered at the McDonald's that probably belonged to the car thieves.