Brian Bender
Brian Bender |

Lakeland police are searching for a man who eluded helicopters and spotlights mounted on fire trucks searching neighborhoods near Lake Hunter Thursday night.

Sheriff’s Department helicopters flying over residential areas to the west and south of Lake Hunter generated calls and social media posts from neighbors wondering about the after-dark search.

Lakeland police said in a news release tonight they are searching for 28-year-old Brian Bender of Mulberry, who fled after being stopped on Lake Hunter Drive. Police were pursing him following a domestic violence complaint.

Here’s how the events unfolded, according to a Lakeland Police Department press release:

On August 11, 2016 at 5;14 p.m., the Lakeland Police Department was dispatched to the Wells Fargo Bank, located at 1515 Harden Blvd, in reference to a battery. The victim, Vanessa Hughes, stated that she had been in an argument with her boyfriend, Brian Bender, in Mulberry and that he battered her in Mulberry. The battery in Mulberry was later investigated by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO). The couple later drove to Lakeland at which time Bender tried to stab her with a screwdriver while driving and he again hit her several times in the face with an opened hand and closed fist. Bender then stopped at the Wells Fargo bank on Harden Boulevard for Hughes to cash a check and that’s when she called the Lakeland Police Department (LPD).

Bender left prior to LPD arriving and Officer Cortes spotted Bender driving an orange Hyundia south on Harden Boulevard. Officer Cortes stopped the vehicle at the intersection of Harden Blvd and Beacon Road. Officer Cortes was in the left turning lane of the southbound lane of Harden Blvd. Officer Cortes stated he exited his vehicle and approached the vehicle asking Bender to roll his window down. Bender then suddenly shifted his vehicle into gear and momentarily accelerated backwards towards Officer Cortes. Officer Cortes stated that Benders actions placed him into fear of bodily harm and he stepped backwards to avoid being hit and suffered an injury to his knee. Officer Cortes was treated at Lakeland Regional Health and later released.

Bender then drove forward over the concrete median and went north on Harden Boulevard at a high rate of speed. Officer Cortes was unable to catch up with Bender, however, another officer stated that Bender had just lost control of his vehicle at Harden Boulevard and Lake Hunter Drive. The officer stated that Bender was running westbound and last scene going into a wooded area.

LPD officers were assisted by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and Hillsborough County Sheriff’s (HCSO) Aviation Unit checking the surrounding area for several hours, however, Bender was not located. Around 9:00 p.m., officers again checked the wooded area for approximately one hour with the assistance of HCSO Aviation Unit and the Lakeland Fire Department, utilizing their ladder truck and spotlight. Bender was not located. If anyone has any information on the location of Bender, please contact the Lakeland Police Department at 834-6900 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-226-8477. To remain anonymous and be eligible for a cash reward, you must contact Crime Stoppers.

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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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