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Stolen truck slams into house

A man in the clothes of a woman whose home nearby was broken into is arrested in the case.

Published March 16, 2006

TAMPA - Officer John Parlapiano was searching for a suspicious vehicle seen around school bus stops in Seminole Heights early Wednesday when he came upon a man stealing a white pickup from a gas station patron.

He began to follow the truck, but lost sight of it when the driver plowed through a yard on a dead-end street and got away.

The truck turned up a few minutes later when the driver crashed through the front door of another home and ran away. Then, police say, he broke into another house a few blocks away.

The drama ended shortly before 7 a.m., when an officer saw the suspect walking down a nearby street - dressed in the clothes of the 63-year-old woman whose home he had just broken into.

Parlapiano arrested Efren Hernandez, 42, and said he admitted to breaking into the home at 1215 E Flora Ave. to support his cocaine habit. But Hernandez denied stealing the truck and crashing it through the front door of 1302 E Sligh Ave., a gray stucco house that owner Jamal Khan has been renovating for the past year.

Hernandez is charged with burglary, grand theft, cocaine possession and possession of drug paraphernalia, county jail records show. Also known as "Chino," Hernandez was being held Wednesday night in lieu of $12,000 bail.

The case is still under investigation, and detectives are looking into whether Hernandez is connected to a spate of recent home burglaries in the area, said Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy. Police say Hernandez had been arrested on a burglary charge and released on bail last month.

Wednesday's incident started at about 6:30 a.m., when Parlapiano went to the area of Sligh and Nebraska avenues, where a white truck near bus stops drew suspicion.

Parlapiano did not see a truck that exactly matched the description left by the 911 caller, but he saw a few white trucks in the parking lot of the Sunoco gas station off Sligh Avenue near the ramp to Interstate 275.

As he drove into the lot, he saw a patron running after a white pickup owned by General Works of Tampa. The unidentified patron, an employee of the roofing company, screamed, "He's stealing my truck! He's stealing my truck!"

Parlapiano said he went after the truck, which weaved in and out of residential streets at about 30 mph. The truck got to a dead end off 10th street and plowed through the fenced yard of a house there, Parlapiano said.

The driver continued east on Sligh - right through Khan's front door.

"It sounded like a missile," said Khan, 23.

Khan wasn't injured, and he considers it lucky that the crash happened after his 4-year-old son was on his way to preschool.

As a tow truck hauled away the smashed white truck later Wednesday, Khan was trying to call his insurance company to report the damage.

The truck flattened the door, knocked the green wrought-iron railing from the front walk and left cracks along the entire front wall.

A few blocks away, Magda Bravo was still trying to get over the burglary of her home of 23 years.

Apparently while hiding out, Hernandez watched as Bravo left for work at 6:45 a.m., then broke in through a living room window and made himself comfortable, Parlapiano said. Hernandez allegedly washed off blood from cuts in the crash and donned a light-colored shirt and dark pants from Bravo's closet, Parlapiano said.

Hernandez took Bravo's favorite jacket and a few pieces of jewelry and walked out the front door, police said. But an officer saw Hernandez walking down the street, noticed the women's clothing and his bleeding arm, and started asking questions.

Within minutes, the officer pulled out his handcuffs and loaded Hernandez into a patrol car.

Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at 813 226-3373 or

[Last modified March 16, 2006, 02:00:27]

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