Florida Keys

Costly joyride: Man on stolen backhoe damaged Seven Mile Bridge

Video: Homeless man takes backhoe for joyride on Seven Mile Bridge

Officials say a 59-year-old man took a backhoe on a joyride across the famous Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys, dumping boulders onto the road along the way.
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Officials say a 59-year-old man took a backhoe on a joyride across the famous Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys, dumping boulders onto the road along the way.

A man charged with stealing a backhoe and taking a wild ride on the Seven Mile Bridge caused about $30,000 in damage, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.

Carl J. Blahnik, 59, remained jailed over the weekend on $32,000 bond.

"Crews began repairing the damage ... and the work should be completed in a couple of days," Ivette Ruiz-Paz, spokeswoman for the FDOT's South Florida District, said late last week.

"The backhoe damaged hundreds of reflective pavement markers and did minor damage to the bridge concrete deck," Ruiz-Paz said. "The bridge is currently open to traffic with no restrictions."

Blahnik, facing several felony charges in addition to driving violations, has a Thursday appearance scheduled before Acting Circuit Court Judge Ruth Becker in Marathon.

Blahnik is accused of stealing the backhoe — which had the keys left in the ignition — from a work site near the Marathon Community Park around midnight last Tuesday.

He traveled to the Seven Mile Bridge, where he used the heavy equipment to drop large rocks across the north entrance to the span.

He then headed south at a top speed of 13 mph, and nearly made it to the bridge's south end at mile marker 40. Two Monroe County Sheriff's Office patrol cars cut him off, but Blahnik skillfully executed an abrupt turn and headed north.

Deputies cleared the bridge of traffic and chased the backhoe while Blahnik drove back and forth on the bridge for about 90 minutes. The backhoe finally was halted when deputies set road spikes to deflate its tires.

"It's hard to believe someone would do something so stupid," Monroe Sheriff Rick Ramsay told US1 Radio. "There are 10 different ways people could have gotten hurt or killed."

But Blahnik's skill at making tight turns and working the backhoe's scoop to rip up road reflectors over three miles of the bridge "was quite impressive," Ramsay said.

The Seven Mile Bridge reopened around 3 a.m. Tuesday after debris from the incident was cleared.

Blahnik, apparently homeless, carried Wisconsin identification when arrested after his spree. Online arrest records of a Carl J. Blahnik with the same October 1959 birth date indicate Wisconsin arrests in 2005 for fleeing from officers and in 2010 for car theft.

Blahnik also apparently served a year in prison and a year on parole after his 2012 arrest for felony battery in Lake County, Ill.

Charges from the Seven Mile Bridge rampage include vehicle theft, reckless driving, fleeing from law officers, aggravated assault, littering and damaging U.S. 1.

Blahnik also was ticketed for driving on a suspended license, driving an unregistered vehicle and not having proper lights for night driving.

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