5-Year-old girl dies after father throws her off a bridge into Tampa Bay

Jan 8, 2015 at 12:00 p.m. ET
Image: ABC Action News

After a dramatic car chase, a young father is behind bars and charged with murder. Police say he killed his young daughter in a horrific act of violence.

An officer driving home near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in St. Petersburg, Florida, was passed by a speeding vehicle. When the officer pursued, he witnessed a startling, terrible act. The driver, John Nicholas Jonchuck, Jr., pulled over, got his 5-year-old daughter out of the car and threw her over the railing.

Before the officer could reach the suspect's vehicle, the little girl fell over 60 feet into the cold water far below. Despite the efforts of St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue and the U.S. Coast Guard, it took over an hour to find the girl in the dark. When Phoebe Jonchuck was found by divers nearly a mile from the bridge, first responders were unable to revive her. She was pronounced dead at All Children's Hospital.

As the rescue attempt took place, a dramatic chase played out. Authorities in nearby Manatee County were able to apprehend Jonchuck, who has a history of domestic violence. In addition to murder charges, he has been charged with aggravated assault of an officer.

Jonchuck's haunting mug shot — a scowling expression and beady eyes — shows the face of a man capable of committing a horrific crime against an innocent young girl.

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I have driven over this bridge here in my hometown countless times. It's an area known for occasional suicides from the sprawling expanse of the Sunshine Skyway, but it's never been associated with such a chilling, awful event until now. My heart goes out to the first responders who tried valiantly to locate the girl and to the officer who witnessed Phoebe's last moments. The girl's mother, a Tampa resident, has not yet been identified.

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