A 42-year-old woman accused of getting behind the wheel of a car left running at a gas station on Arlington Expressway early Tuesday morning was arrested a short time later after ramming a Jacksonville police car that had stopped the vehicle, then crashing through a concrete barrier and into four parked cars.
The stolen car's owner, Anda Nikolova, is still in shock. She admits she learned a valuable lesson Tuesday morning.
"I just couldn’t believe that it happened, like it seemed so surreal and the whole time I was just like, you know can someone pinch me so I could wake up from this bad nightmare, and then at the end it was really real," said Nikolova.
According to the arrest report, Tracy Webb got into Nikolova's Saturn at the pumps at the Mobil station at 851 Arlington Expressway about 3 a.m. As the officer was writing the stolen car report, Nikolova saw the car nearby and the officer caught up with it a few blocks away and attempted a traffic stop. The car did stop, then backed into the patrol car and took off again.
When the officer caught up with the car again, it had crashed at Ichiban Auto Customizing and Repair at the corner of Arlington Expressway and Arlington Road -- directly across the highway from where it was stolen -- and caught fire. The damage to cars parked at the shop was estimated to be $14,000 to $15,000.
"They said she was going about 80 mph, so it's -- we're lucky it's only this much damage," said Douglas Hughes, who owns the auto shop.
Had Webb been going less than 50 mph, a cement wall protecting the parking lot would have stopped the car from plowing into the cars waiting to be worked on. Hughes said he put the wall up six years ago, but this was the seventh time someone has crashed into the lot of his business.
"Oh man, this is the worst time. This is the worst one," he said. "The car was actually on fire, other customers' cars were on fire, they were damaged. So it hurts, it sucks, it's not my fault, but there's damage."
Police said Webb ran on foot before she was taken into custody. The officer wrote in the arrest report there was a strong odor of alcohol on her breath.
Webb was charged with auto theft, DUI, leaving the scene of an accident, reckless driving and knowingly operating a vehicle without a license.
Channel 4 learned that Webb has a long arrest history, with charges from hit-and-run crashes to petty thefts to disorderly intoxication going back to the 1990s.
Hughes is left with a mess to clean up and four customers to break the bad news to.
"This owner is extremely upset, like pissed," he said of one of the damaged car's owners. "Said his lawyer's going to call me, so it's what do I do? You know, you got to address it, so we'll be able to fix everything. It shouldn't be a big deal, it's just more time."
"This could have easily been a very bad situation had there been more automobiles on the road and more people out because clearly this person knew they had taken this vehicle and knew the police was hot on their trail, and sometimes that causes erratic behavior, erratic driving," Channel 4 crime analyst Ken Jefferson said.
Nikolova said this is a lesson she learned the hard way.
“The only reason I did that is because I have a broken fuel pump and if I would’ve turned the car off, I would’ve had to take a chance for the car not to start. So I was scared to do that, you know to shut the car off and me be stuck in that bad area," said Nikolova. "I mean I had to go through it in order to realize that that's not the right thing to do."
Jefferson said no matter what the circumstances are, people should never leave their keys in the car, and always lock the doors and take the keys with you.
“If you leave the keys in your car and it’s not running, you’re still running the risk of getting it stolen because it’s an open invitation for thieves," said Jefferson.
Hughes said he's going to make the concrete wall even taller and add more steel to it because apparently the bright yellow posts aren't enough.