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NEW ORLEANS -- Fleeing from St. Charles Parish authorities, a River Ridge man drove a stolen Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office squad car into the Mississippi River early Sunday, according to both law enforcement agencies.
David Mitchell Jr., 22, of River Ridge managed to get out of the car as it started to sink about 30 yards from the river bank, said Capt. Patrick Yoes of the St. Charles Parish Sheriff's Office. A towboat operator dragged Mitchell aboard after he struggled in the current for some time.
The incident started in Metairie at about 6:10 a.m., when a Jefferson Parish sheriff's deputy, after investigating a complaint of a suspicious person in the 2500 block of North Woodlawn Avenue, returned to find his marked squad car missing. Shattered glass on the ground indicated someone broke a window to enter the car, said Sheriff's Office spokesman John Fortunato.
About 10 minutes later, an off-duty Pontchartrain Levee Board police officer spotted the police car driving erratically on the levee near a bend in the east bank River Road, Yoes said. The officer alerted St. Charles authorities at about 6:20 a.m.
A St. Charles deputy spotted the squad car on the levee, and attempted to confront the driver.
"The guy just floors the vehicle and runs it into the river," Yoes said. "He gets out, the vehicle goes down and he tries to swim toward the center of the river."
A towboat crew member pulled Mitchell aboard, and he was later arrested.
St. Charles authorities booked him with possession of stolen property, four counts of resisting arrest and unauthorized use of a vehicle on a levee, Yoes said. The Jefferson Sheriff's Office is expected to lodge its own set of charges against him, including auto theft, Fortunato said.
Divers suspended their search for the submerged squad car around midday Sunday, but Fortunato said the department might use sonar equipment to attempt to retrieve it.
Jefferson Sheriff's Office investigators believe Mitchell caused extensive damage to a fence along an access road to Louis Armstrong International Airport. They found pieces of the police car's light bar and other equipment scattered near the fence.
Mitchell, who has a lengthy criminal history, was on probation for armed robbery in Jefferson Parish, Fortunato said.