A department store in the Westfield Brandon Mall was locked down and emptied Monday while deputies searched for three suspects who fled from a traffic stop in Manatee County.
The chase began just afternoon when the burglary suspects sped away from deputies in Palm Harbor, the sheriff's office said.
Minutes later, their car failed to negotiate the exit ramp at Highway 60 in Hillsborough County and spun off the roadway.
Investigators say the three suspects ran into the Dillard's department store at the Brandon Mall but authorities were not far behind.
"They had their guns drawn. The customers are panicking and so was I," said Crystal Johnson, who works at Dillard's. "We were very scared. We didn't know what was going on."
Customers described the same type of fear.
"We were in there getting ready to shop and all of a sudden, there was a lot of police just running," said Shanara Miller.
"Never seen anything like this," said Brian Leininger. "Very scary. You just don't know. Anybody could just walk in and get killed."
Hillsborough County deputies and Florida Highway Patrol troopers evacuated the store.
As of 2 p.m. all three had been caught, the sheriff's office said. The last suspect was found hiding out in the luggage section.
"You don't know what you have and what you're going into," said Hillsborough County Col. Greg Brown. "That's part of law enforcement. When you go into any type of building with multiple suspects, you don't what you're going to face, whether they want to flee or fight."
Two of the three suspects were originally spotted by a neighbor breaking into a home in the 3400 block of 68th St. Circle E in Palmetto, deputies said.
The vehicle had also been reported stolen.
As of 3 p.m., the Dillard's had reopened.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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