TAMPA, Florida -- A Hillsborough County school bus driver is behind bars after police say he grabbed a 12-year-old boy who was walking home, forced him down an embankment and behind a clump of trees near the Hillsborough River, then sexually assaulted him.
Detectives are not sure if 29-year-old Dacquiri Crawford victimized other children, according to the Tampa Police Department.
On Thursday, the boy was walking to Tampa Presbyterian Village to play with friends, as he often did. That's the first time that police say he ever saw Crawford, parked under the Boulevard Bridge with a group of men. It was as the 12-year-old walked home around 9 p.m., police say, that he saw the suspect again. This time, he was standing alone.
"He forced himself upon the boy, performing two sexual acts," says Tampa Police spokeswoman Laura McElroy. "When the child said, 'It hurts, it hurts,' he stopped the act and then he let the child go."
The boy's mother called police, sparking a massive search by air and ground that included K-9 units and more than three dozen undercover officers.
A tip in the case may have come from the suspect himself. Police say he told the boy, "If you liked that, I will be back."
"It appears he was trying to develop some sort of rapport with this child and get the child to come back and meet him," McElroy says. "Based on that, we thought there was a strong possibility the suspect would return to that area."
Detectives say Crawford returned to that same area on Friday night, just as the Tampa Police Department was about to put out a public plea for help leading to the arrest of a suspect.
"He admitted victimizing this 12-year-old boy. He even turned over the clothing that he was wearing during the offense," says McElroy. "He made a comment that he thought the boy was a little older, 13 or 14, and that made it okay in his mind."
Crawford started working as a substitute bus driver for Hillsborough County Public Schools in 2005, and was promoted to a permanent driver in 2006. Officials couldn't say what bus route he drove. He has no prior charges in Hillsborough County, and a school district background check done prior to hiring Crawford turned up nothing.
"We've never had any problems with him whatsoever," says Hillsborough County Public Schools spokesman Steve Hegarty. "We will send a letter to the jail to inform him that given the charges, this very well could affect his future employment if it's true."
It will be the school board's decision to suspend Crawford without pay or fire him.
Crawford is being held without bond.
McElroy says the boy is traumatized by what happened, but has been very helpful to detectives.
"He had the presence of mind to run home and tell his mother immediately what happened," she says. "He's been very brave."
If you have any information regarding other victims, you're urged to call the Tampa Police Department at 813-231-6130 or CrimeStoppers at 1-800-873-TIPS.