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 or not she was alive at the time, though an officer who witnessed it said he “thought he heard the child scream, but he wasn’t sure,” 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.
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Just after midnight, police saw Jonchuck’s PT Cruiser speeding toward the bridge at 100 mph. By the time an officer caught up with him, Jonchuck had pulled over near the bridge.
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 bridge 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 put out traffic spikes and stopped him.
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.
Authorities didn’t release information about the girl’s mother, but said they had spoken with her in the hours after the child was found.
According to a 2013 Tampa police incident report, Jonchuck called officers when Phoebe’s mother, Michelle Kerr, showed up at her day care. He told officers that he had a restraining order against her.
Jonchuck said 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.
According to court records in Tampa, Jonchuck had been arrested on misdemeanor domestic violence charges in recent years, but it appeared those charges had been dropped. He also had been cited several times on driving infractions.