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Polk County News and Democrat Detectives investigating carjacking in Lakeland
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News Story
Updated: 07/10/2014 07:28:09PM

Detectives investigating carjacking in Lakeland

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Thomas Craft

Brian Craft

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At 6 a.m. Sunday, a 56-year-old Lakeland woman pulled over into a parking lot near Wabash Avenue and Parker Street because she had spilled a drink, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office reports.

She was then confronted by three young black men who took her car—a 2002 blue Ford Escape— and her cellphone by force. The woman walked home and reported the crime.

PCSO received the call at 6:32 a.m. The woman was pistol-whipped, had a gun pointed at her, and fought her attackers; she was checked out by EMS (she had minor injuries from being forced to the ground) and she is in good condition, the sheriff’s office reported in a press release.

While detectives were investigating the carjacking, the Florida Highway Patrol initiated and attempted a traffic stop on the Escape at approximately 9 a.m. The vehicle fled the attempted traffic stop onto the Polk Parkway (eastern section in the Auburndale area). FHP did not initiate a pursuit because at the time there were only traffic charges.

Shortly thereafter, FHP found the vehicle abandoned on Old Dixie Highway a few hundred yards west of the Polk Parkway. PCSO was called to assist in locating the five suspects described as young black males. A PCSO helicopter found three of the five suspects in a field near Old Dixie and the Parkway and directed ground units to their location. Two 18-year-olds and a 16-year-old were taken into custody — charges are pending investigation on the three.

Two other suspects are at large.

Deputies discovered from a witness that two young black males received a ride from the area to the Main Street and Combee Road area. PCSO deputies found nothing in a search, it reports.

The Lakeland Police Department is investigating a carjacking that occurred in their jurisdiction — inquiries related to that investigation should be addressed to LPD. The two cases do appear to be related, however. The license tags on the involved vehicles appear to have been switched (sometime after the carjacking occurred that police are investigating and when the same vehicle — the Ford Escape — was located on Old Dixie Highway).

Brothers convicted on child porn charges

Last week, June 18, 30-year-old Brian Craft, was convicted as charged of sexual battery on a child, lewd molestation, 10 counts of possession of child pornography, promoting sexual performance of a child and use of a child in a sexual performance, according to reports.

Polk County Sheriff’s Office learned child pornography was being downloaded and distributed to two separate computers at the same residence in Lakeland, it reported. A search warrant was served at 5210 Dismuke Drive and both Brian and Thomas Craft, brothers, were arrested and charged with multiple counts of possession of child pornography, according to reports.

During the forensic review of the computers, detectives discovered that in 2011, two young girls had been in Brian Craft’s care and he had allegedly sexually battered them on different occasions.

Brian Craft is scheduled for sentencing at 8:30 a.m., Friday, July 18. He will face future court proceedings to additional child pornography charges, the sheriff’s office reports. Those court dates have yet to be determined.

Brian Craft’s brother, 31-year-old Thomas Craft, pled guilty to his charges and will serve five years in Florida State Prison, followed by 12 years of probation.

The original releases regarding this investigation appear below:

“Brian Craft, and his brother Thomas, are very sick individuals. They are the reason we conduct such thorough investigations on anyone who possesses or distributes child pornography.

“Unfortunately, Brian wasn’t just downloading images off the Internet and victimizing children in that manner. He also physically and psychologically damaged two very innocent, very young children who were in his care. He belongs behind bars for the rest of his life,” said Sheriff Grady Judd.

Deputy on leave after fatal crash

At 6 a.m., on June 9, Polk County Sheriff’s Office Deputy, William Tull, 21, assigned to the Southwest District as a patrol deputy, had just completed his shift and was traveling home in the eastbound lanes of Havendale Boulevard in his agency issued patrol car, a 2007 Chevrolet Impala.

As Deputy Tull approached 42nd Street, 56-year-old Martin W. Knoetasch, stepped into the path of the patrol car and was struck at the right front passenger corner of the vehicle. Knoetasch died at the scene.

Knoetasch was dressed in jeans and a medium to dark colored multi-striped shirt.

The intersection has street lights and several businesses located nearby. Charlotte Road runs north from Havendale, while 42nd Street runs south.

Preliminary information is that the traffic light was green and Tull had the right of way. Knoetasch appears to have traveled from Charlotte Road, south, had crossed the westbound lanes and the median, and had begun to cross into the eastbound lanes on Havendale on the west side of the intersection and into the path of the patrol car. Deputy Tull was wearing his seat belt at the time of the crash and was uninjured.

The road was closed for approximately 3.5 hours on June 9.

Knoetasch had an criminal arrest history with 78 criminal arrest charges and has been booked into the Polk County Jail 42 times, the sheriff’s office reported. Knoetasch’s prior charges include 11 disorderly intoxication and alcohol related charges, 30 trespassing and public order related charges, and other charges to include theft, resisting arrest, battery, and failure to appear.

It is the standard PCSO policy for mandated, independent reviews to be conducted when an agency related crash occurs resulting in a fatality. The Traffic Homicide Unit will conduct the traffic crash investigation. Upon the completion of that investigation, the findings will be reviewed by the PCSO Administrative Investigations Section. Tull has been placed on paid administrative leave. He was hired in February 2012; his annual salary is $41,460.02.

Fatal accident investigation underway

Polk County Sheriff’s Office Traffic Homicide deputies are looking into the details of a fatal crash investigation involving a motorcycle versus a pickup truck.

At 10:10 a.m., Friday, June 20, Charles J. Simon, 25, Citrus Parkway, Clermont, was operating a 2005 blue Honda motorcycle and traveling southbound on U.S. 27 in the inside lane.

U.S. 27 is a four-lane divided highway with turn lanes and median breaks along this section of the highway.

As Simon approached the intersection with California Boulevard, Michael P. Donnelly, 30, Grape Avenue, St. Cloud, was driving a 2002, white Ford F350 pickup truck was attempting to cross from McFee Drive on the east side of U.S. 27 to California Boulevard on the west side, the sheriff’s office reports.

As Donnelly attempted to enter the southbound lanes of U.S. 27, he pulled into the path of the motorcycle. The motorcycle hit the right front metal bumper of the pickup truck and was re-directed northwest across the outside lane and onto the west shoulder of the roadway approximately 100 feet from the point of impact, the sheriff’s office reported. Simon came to rest on the shoulder of the roadway adjacent to the motorcycle.

Donnelly stopped at the point of impact.

Emergency responders arrived and Simon was listed as a trauma alert with initial plans to be airlifted. However, due to his condition, he was transported via ambulance to Heart of Florida Hospital where he ultimately died at 12:37 p.m.

This section of U.S. 27 is undergoing construction. Traffic was routed into one lane of travel in both directions in the northbound lanes US 27. The roadway was re-opened after approximately 3.5 hours.

Initial investigation determined that Simon was not wearing a helmet at the time of the crash. Donnelly was seat belted, but no airbags in his vehicle deployed. Neither impairment, speed, nor distraction appear to be factors in the crash.

The investigation is ongoing.

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