PERRY -- A handcuffed Florida man who managed to crawl through a small opening in a Plexiglas partition and drive off in a Houston County sheriff’s patrol car last summer has been sentenced to six years and six months in prison.
Seth Ray Stewart, 23, of Park, Florida, also was sentenced to eight years and six months on probation after pleading guilty Thursday to fleeing or attempting to elude, forgery and theft by taking. All of those crimes are felonies.
Stewart signed a traffic citation with a fictitious name before taking off in a Houston County sheriff’s vehicle -- a 2014 Dodge Charger -- and fleeing from authorities July 5, 2014.
He also pleaded guilty last week to misdemeanor offenses of driving on a suspended license, reckless conduct and speeding.
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The other charges in what was originally a 22-count indictment against him were dismissed as part of the plea agreement. Those charges include escape, kidnapping, identity fraud and a several traffic-related offenses.
Stewart also was granted first-offender status, which means if he successfully completes the terms of his probation upon release from prison, the felonies would come off his criminal record.
Judge George Nunn also ordered Stewart to pay $709.79 in restitution for a cellphone that belonged to one of the arresting sheriff’s deputies and barred Stewart from Houston County.
The incident that sent Stewart to prison began about 1 p.m. on Interstate 75 when he was pulled over by a sheriff’s deputy for traveling 87 mph in a 70 mph lane, authorities said.
He was driving a 2004 Ford Taurus that belonged to passenger Kimon Marcus Miller, 26, of Stone Mountain. Charges against Miller stemming from the incident were dismissed Monday in consideration of Stewart’s plea, court records show.
After deputies found less than a half-ounce of marijuana in Miller’s car during the traffic stop, Stewart and Miller were handcuffed from behind and put in the patrol car.
While deputies were searching Miller’s car, Stewart -- 5 feet 9 inches tall and 120 pounds -- managed to get his handcuffed hands from around his back and crawl through the 11 1/2 inch-by-12 1/2 inch opening in the partition of the patrol car.
The partition was open to allow air to flow to the back seat of the vehicle.
Stewart was able to start the patrol car, which has a push-button ignition. He took off down I-75, turned onto Ga. 26 and then abandoned the patrol car about five miles away, in the 2300 block of U.S. 41 in south Houston County.
Stewart let Miller out of the vehicle before he ran into a wooded area, and Miller stayed put near the patrol car until deputies arrived. Stewart was later arrested.
The patrol cars have since been modified to include a screen across the partition that would prevent a similar incident.
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.