Video: Homeless man takes backhoe for joyride on Seven Mile Bridge
A slow-speed chase on the Seven Mile Bridge early Tuesday closed the span until 3 a.m.
The vehicle that took police on the ride: A backhoe, the Monroe County Sheriff's Office says.
Carl Blahnik, 59, took the joyride about midnight, starting when he allegedly dumped boulders at the north end of the bridge around mile marker 47 of U.S. 1. He then headed south, topping out around 13 mph, and nearly made it to the other end at mile marker 40.
But he suddenly changed direction back north -- forcing two deputies in patrol cars to hit reverse to get out of the way, says agency spokeswoman Becky Herrin.
She says Blahnik then spent an hour and a half driving back and forth over the bridge while deputies, with lights and sirens on, tried to pull him over, reversing direction several times. While that happened, he hit the side of the bridge several times, damaging it, Herrin said. A police cruiser was also damaged, she said.
Despite that, "It appeared from his skill he had experience driving one of these," Herrin said. "He did "pinpoint pivots on the bridge."
Deputies got other cars off the road, then left the span themselves and waited at the ends. About 1:20 a.m., Blahnik finally drove off the bridge at the north end near where he dumped the boulders, and police set up spikes to puncture the tires. It worked, Herrin said. The backhoe stopped and Blahnik was arrested.
Blahnik is charged with felony counts of fleeing police, grand theft auto, aggravated assault and criminal mischief; and misdemeanor counts of reckless driving, failing to register a motor vehicle, littering and digging up a public road.
The bridge reopened just after 3 a.m. after debris from the incident was cleaned up.
Herrin said the backhoe was stolen from an area near the Marathon Community Park at mile marker 48.5. Sewer work has been ongoing there along U.S. 1. She said the keys were in the ignition.
His apparent reason for the adventure: Slowing other motorists down.
"He apparently was saying something about people driving too fast. He wasn't really too coherent," Herrin said.
Herrin said Blahnik was carrying a Wisconsin identification card and that he might be homeless, living in woods near Coco Plum Beach at the other end of town.