Florida man throws daughter off bridge during police pursuit

By Erin Clingenpeel

TAMPA BAY, FLORIDA (BNO NEWS) -- A Florida man was arrested Thursday and charged with murder after he allegedly threw his five-year-old daughter from a bridge near Tampa while being pursued by police for speeding, local authorities said. The motive was not immediately known.

The incident began just after midnight local time when a St. Petersburg Police officer was overtaken by a Chrysler PT Cruiser which was going about 100 miles (160 kilometers) per hour towards the Sunshine Skyway Bridge that connects St. Petersburg to Manatee County, police spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez said.

"The officer turned his lights on to stop the car. When the car was near the top of the Dick Misener Bridge on the approach to the Skyway, the officer saw the driver stop and throw a child over the side of the rail into the water," Fernandez said. "The driver got back in the car and drove South."

Police stopped the vehicle about 30 minutes later near an exit of Interstate 75 in Sarasota, where 25-year-old John Jonchuck, of Tampa, was taken into custody. He was taken to the St. Petersburg Police Department for questioning before being transferred to the Pinellas County Jail, where he was charged with 1st degree murder, aggravated fleeing and eluding, and aggravated assault with a motor vehicle on a law enforcement officer.

The U.S. Coast Guard was involved in the search for the girl, who was identified by police as 5-year-old Phoebe Jonchuck. Phoebe was pronounced dead at 2:44 a.m. after she was recovered from the Tampa Bay, and attempts to resuscitate her were unsuccessful.

Fernandez said investigators have not yet determined a motive for the murder as Jonchuck refused to be interviewed.

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