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Police say Vanessa Brooks stole St. Petersburg police cruiser after keys were left in the ignition

8:03 PM, Jan 14, 2013   |    comments
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St. Petersburg, Florida - In her mug shot Vanessa Brooks looks mighty joyous. Could her broad smile be linked in anyway to her recent joy ride?

St. Pete Police say Brooks stole a car... but not just any vehicle. It was one of their police cruisers.

"We take this very serious," says police spokesman Mike Puetz. "Obviously, it's a bit of an embarrassment to have one of your police cars taken like this."

It started about 9:30 p.m. Saturday, when Officer Andrew Bailey responded to an argument at an apartment complex on 62nd Ave. South. Bailey left the keys in the ignition and his car running.

That's when police say Brooks happened by, hopped in, and hauled off.

About 15 minutes later, Bailey discovered his car was gone and the department activated the GPS tracking. The Florida Highway Patrol and other law enforcement agencies were also alerted.

Still, Brooks made it all away across the bay before Tampa police seized a golden opportunity to arrest her at the golden arches of a McDonald's on Kennedy Boulevard.

Even after Tampa police located Brooks in the restaurant parking lot, that wasn't the end of it for this ill-fated cruiser. When Brooks bailed from the vehicle, she left it in gear and it backed itself into a tree.

At a St. Pete shopping center, right across the street from the apartments where this all started, 10 News found plenty of people exiting their vehicles and locking them. And there's a good reason for that.

"If you don't, it might not be there when you get back," said Vincent Burke with a chuckle.

Some shoppers like Pat Rhodes had heard about the cruiser caper. "I thought it was pretty funny," he says laughing.

But it wouldn't have been so laughable, if someone had done more damage to the car or gotten access to police equipment, or the weapons typically stored in the trunk.

According to St. Pete police, Officer Bailey must still write a report on what happened and the officer could face discipline. Bailey has been on the force for nearly three years.

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