ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The father of a 5-year-old girl pulled his daughter from the back seat of his car and then threw her off the approach to the Sunshine Skyway bridge into the bay about 60 feet below, police said Thursday.
It wasn’t clear why 25-year-old John Nicholas Jonchuck threw his daughter or whether she was alive at the time, though an officer who witnessed it said he “thought he heard the child scream,” St. Petersburg police Chief Anthony Holloway said at a news conference.
Police records said Jonchuck was separated from Phoebe’s mother and the two had a rocky relationship, with Jonchuck trying to get a restraining order against her as recently as last month. Jonchuck had custody of Phoebe and they lived with his father in Tampa.
Phoebe’s mother, Michelle Kerr, said she last saw her daughter and Jonchuck on Christmas Eve. They had a nice evening together and then he called child protective services on her and made false abuse allegations, she said.
“He does the Jekyll and Hyde. It’s just something that goes on in his head, he just wasn’t wired right,” she told The Associated Press.
And yet, Kerr said that she never imagined Jonchuck would hurt Phoebe.
“I always saw him as a good dad. She would always say, ‘I love you daddy.’ She loved her dad,” Kerr said.
Both she and Jonchuck had several run-ins with authorities over domestic violence situations, according to documents.
On Thursday, just after midnight, police saw Jonchuck’s Chrysler PT Cruiser speeding toward the bridge at 100 mph. By the time an officer caught up with him, Jonchuck had pulled over.
Jonchuck got out and started toward the officer, who pulled his weapon. Then Jonchuck went around to the passenger side of his car and got Phoebe out from the back seat and tossed her over the railing.
Jonchuck faces first-degree murder charges. His first court hearing is scheduled for Thursday afternoon.
“He lawyered up,” Holloway said. “He really didn’t want to talk.”
Jail records didn’t list the name of Jonchuck’s attorney.
Phoebe’s body was recovered an hour and a half later about a mile from the bridge. Rescue crews tried to revive her. She was pronounced dead at 2:44 a.m. An autopsy is pending.
After throwing his daughter, officers said Jonchuck got back in the car and led police on a chase into a neighboring county. At one point, he turned his car around and started driving toward officers. They eventually stopped him with traffic spikes.
Jonchuck also faces charges of aggravated assault with a motor vehicle on a law enforcement officer and aggravated fleeing and eluding police.
Authorities said Jonchuck filed a restraining order against the child’s mother last month, but it’s not clear why and it wasn’t granted.
Also, Jonchuck called officers when Phoebe’s mother showed up at her Tampa day care in 2013, according to a police . He told officers that he had a restraining order against her.
Jonchuck said then they had recently separated after eight years and because of Kerr’s “violent actions,” he obtained the order. Kerr left the daycare without seeing her child. It’s not clear whether Jonchuck had actually gotten a restraining order.
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