A man was taken into custody in Washington County overnight after allegedly stealing a Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputy’s patrol car at a gas station in Festus.
The incident began at the Express Mart in the 800 block of Collins Road around 9:25 p.m. Wednesday.
Timothy Hopkins, 42, was reportedly at the gas station in his red pickup truck when he pumped $6 worth of gas and told the cashier he was waiting for his girlfriend to pay. The girlfriend was not with him in his car but later showed up in a different vehicle, according to police.
Police said Hopkins then tried to leave but the cashier said he had to pay first. The suspect got in his truck and tried to drive away but was stopped by a Jefferson County deputy who happened to be at the gas station.
The deputy then arrested Hopkins and put him in the front seat of his Ford Taurus, a cashier at the gas station told News 4. The suspect somehow got into the driver’s seat and drove off. The cashier said he nearly hit several customers in the parking lot as he fled.
"There's no way to put it, a mistake was made by us," said Captain Gary Higginbotham of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department. "We were only away from the car for 25 seconds and that's all the time it took."
But, Captain Higginbotham told News 4 transporting someone on the front seat isn't against their policy.
"It's not really uncommon across the nation," he said. "There's advantages and disadvantages to the cage."
Hopkins was wanted on at least one felony warrant, police said. News 4 later learned Hopkins has a long criminal history: nearly 20 arrests and charges in multiple states including sodomy, forgery and failure to register as a sex offender.
Shortly before midnight Wednesday, deputies in Washington County spotted the stolen squad car.
“We pursued the vehicle through woods and fields, where the vehicle came to a stop in a creek bank,” said Washington County Sheriff Zach Jacobson.
Hopkins was reportedly injured while trying to flee police but was taken into custody.
The squad car had to be towed up from the embankment. Captain Higginbotham said the vehicle is being processed now. They are also looking into whether or not the arresting officer followed police protocol.
"It's not a good situation, we know that," Higginbotham said. "We'll review this and address this and try to fix our issues and our officer's issues with complacency."
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