LAKELAND (FOX 13) - Four men are facing charges after a wild Saturday morning crime spree across Hillsborough and Polk counties -- but one of them wasn't anywhere near the scene.
It started with a Saturday morning carjacking in Brandon. When deputies caught up to the car on Interstate 4, investigators say the three men inside crashed the Dodge Charger and took off on foot to the nearby McDonald's on Frontage Road in Lakeland. After unsuccessfully trying to carjack two cars in the drive-thru line, the men went for the drive-thru window.
"The young lady who was working the drive-thru line at the McDonald's attempted to close the window, but the bad guy in this case came through the window," Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee said Saturday.
The McDonald's manager quickly cleared the store of its busy breakfast crowd and all but two employees.
"We were trying to figure out, 'Is everybody out of the McDonalds? How do we get these guys out safely and into custody?" Lakeland Police Sgt. Gary Gross said Monday.
Hostage negotiators convinced one suspect to surrender and to free the two employees. Still, two gunmen remained inside and around 10:30 a.m., investigators got information that they could still be holding a hostage.
Edward Potter posted on Facebook saying he was stuck inside the bathroom and "loved his family." He also texted a friend saying he was being held hostage in the McDonald's and needed help.
A robot was sent in the store to locate potter to no luck. Nearly 100 law enforcement officers surrounded the scene.
"Over a period of two or three hours, we could not find him," Gross explained.
Turns out, he was never there. Police eventually traced Potter's texts back to Talbot House, a homeless shelter in Lakeland. There, police say they found him in his pajamas -- safe and sound, with his phone in his pocket.
Once police knew only the suspects were left inside, SWAT finally entered the restaurant. Sedrick Hamilton, Eugene Willis, and Justin Crumpton, all of Orlando, were arrested.
Potter, who doesn't know the suspects, also found himself behind bars.
"He just decided to fabricate this whole story and take us on a ride and he did for three hours, but in the end he went to jail," Gross said.
Police believe Potter found out about the robbery on social media or the news and decided to engage in the storyline. He has not explained why he fabricated the story.
Potter's already been released from jail since he was only charged with a misdemeanor count of giving false information to a law enforcement officer. Police say they're working with the State Attorney's Office to see if he might face additional charges.