DONNA — A thief apparently in need of a Valentine’s Day gift led local police on an early morning chase into Mercedes on Monday.
According to officers, someone broke into the Santana Flower Shop, near the intersection of 10th Street and Business 83 in Donna, just before 4 a.m.
Police patrolling the area spotted the thief’s two-door Ford coupe parked outside the store and pulled over to investigate. As they drove up, he bolted from the shop, carrying a large white teddy bear in a decorative basket, Chief Ruben "Ram" De Leon said.
The man took off eastbound along Business 83, leading police on a 10-mile chase through the downtown areas of Donna and Weslaco.
Fleeing at speeds near 50 miles an hour, the man ran into a curb and a light pole before crashing his car into the fence of the Magic Valley Electric Cooperative near the intersection of Mile 2 East and Business 83 in Mercedes. From there, he escaped on foot, De Leon said.
Officers recovered the bear from the vehicle and returned it to the flower shop, according to employee Mary Lou Santana, whose family owns the shop. Police told Santana the thief had buckled the bear into the back seat of his car.
"It was a two-door car," she said. "He must have actually reclined the front seat to put him in the back and then buckled him in. I don’t know why he didn’t just throw it in the front."
Donna police have not yet released a description of the suspect, or determined ownership of the vehicle.
"Something like this means a lot more when you buy it, instead of just saying, ‘Hey honey, look what I stole for you,’" De Leon said of the thief’s capered attempt to presumably impress his sweetie with a gift.
Police pursuits have received increased attention across the Rio Grande Valley, after a man fleeing from state troopers caused a four-car accident that killed a Mission man on Jan. 30 in North McAllen. Another high-speed chase involving Pharr police in October ended with a fatal collision in Palmview.
But De Leon does not believe Valley police are engaging in more pursuits than usual. Local media is just paying more attention, he said.
"These days just about everyone has a dash cam," he said. "You can turn on any cable news network at anytime and watch police chase videos all night long."
Donna police officers decided to pursue the suspect in this case because of the light late-night traffic along Business 83, he said.
"At no time do we throw caution to the wind and pursue suspects at all costs," De Leon said.
Either way, Santana was glad the bear found its way back home to her shop. After returning the stuffed toy to its display perch later Monday morning, she placed a pair of handcuffs around its wrists to underscore the bear’s wild night.
The store now plans to raffle it off as a Valentine’s Day prize. The tickets are free, Santana said.
"Who knows, maybe the thief will come back, enter the raffle and win," she said.
Jeremy Roebuck covers law enforcement and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 683-4437.