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NEW ORLEANS -- A truck stop cashier spotted a sex offender and a Florida teen who'd been missing for a week, setting off a 40-mile chase across Louisiana swampland that ended when a tire on the man's truck burst into flames, officials said Thursday.
The Florida man -- Steven Myers, 41, of Plant City -- and the 16-year-old girl both had stab wounds and were in serious but stable condition, police said. Investigators believe but have not confirmed that Myers stabbed the girl and then himself, said Cpl. Paul Mouton, spokesman for the Lafayette Police Department.
The teen, from Valrico in the Tampa Bay area, had been missing since June 11, according to a Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office statement. The girl is bipolar and didn't take her medications with her when she last left home, officials said.
In the statement, released Friday, officials said they suspected the girl might be with Myers, who is registered in Florida for a 1999 sex offense of child molestation in Georgia.
About 9:40 p.m. Wednesday, a truck stop attendant in Grosse Tete -- west of Baton Rouge, and about a 10-hour drive from the girl's home in Valrico -- recognized the two from an alert on her cellphone shortly before she was called in for an unscheduled shift, her co-worker said.
About eight people were in the Tiger Truck Stop store when the pair walked in, Scott Holbrook said. The girl seemed nervous and unhappy but not terrified of the man, he said.
"She didn't get anything, didn't go anywhere, she stayed right next to him," he said.
He said they walked up to co-worker Fawn Lasseigne's register, which was closed. She sent the two over to his register and went into the office to check her phone, Holbrook said.
As Myers walked out with a pack of cigarettes and the teen, Lasseigne "leaned over to me and said, 'Call the police. It's a kidnapped girl.'"
She walked out to see which vehicle was his, and pointed it out to the first deputy to respond, Holbrook said.
Myers and the girl were in a Chevrolet work truck with a welding rig on the back when a patrol car arrived, Maj. James Cox of the Iberville Parish Sheriff's Office said. The officer ordered the driver to stop, but he sped off, Cox said.
The chase moved west on the interstate until state troopers used a spike strip to stop the truck. Five of its six tires were flattened, and a tire caught fire after running on its rims, Mouton said.
Myers got out of the truck with a knife, and officers subdued him a stun gun and a police dog, Mouton said. They then got the girl out of the truck.
Both were hospitalized, and Myers also was being treated for dog bites, Mouton said.
Myers was found guilty of child molestation in March 1999, according to court records from Forsyth County, Georgia. He was sentenced to serve five years in prison and 10 years' probation, which he twice violated, the court records show. He returned to prison in May 2010 and was released in February 2012.
Associated Press writer Kate Brumback contributed to this report from Atlanta.