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Crystal Gayle's stolen tour bus found in Daytona Beach
Daytona Beach police Sgt. Jeff Hoffman had just asked a dispatcher for more information about the tour bus stolen from country music singer Crystal Gayle when the blue-and-silver Prevost suddenly passed right in front of him Friday night. He quickly pulled the driver over along South Ridgewood Avenue and, within seconds, a weeklong manhunt across the Southeast that made headlines nationwide ended.
"I could fib and say we had a massive manhunt for it and it was keen police work that brought this to a close," Daytona's Deputy Chief Steve Beres joked. "It was good, old-fashioned work for the officer who remembered seeing it. This was a good amount of luck."
Christopher Daniel Gay, 33, who escaped from a prisoner-transport van during a bathroom break a week ago in South Carolina, was arrested without resistance about 11 p.m., Beres said.
Beres said Gay told him in a brief interview that he had been taking the 45-foot-long motor coach to the Daytona speedway to drop it off for a friend in Nashville.
Law-enforcement officials have said Gay made his way through several states in stolen vehicles, including a Wal-Mart truck. He is suspected of swiping Gayle's bus last week from a secured lot in Nashville, where it was parked between performances. Authorities also have said he fled because he wanted to see his mother, who has terminal cancer. It was unclear Saturday whether he was able to do so.
Once Hoffman stopped the bus, Beres said, Gay -- sporting a baseball cap and bluejeans -- got out, walked over to Hoffman and nonchalantly asked for directions to Daytona International Speedway. Gay was lost, he told the sergeant.
Hoffman didn't buy it. He asked for Gay's name and Gay identified himself correctly. He then was arrested and booked into the Volusia County jail early Saturday morning on several charges from various agencies, including the grand-theft count local police added.
Beres said it didn't appear the vehicle had been hot-wired. Gayle's husband and manager, Bill Gatzimos, said they aren't sure how someone managed to take the motor coach, which is kept in a gated area that requires security codes to enter.
The Grammy-winning singer known for her long hair and 1970s hit "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" had just returned from Texas in the bus Jan. 21. She didn't plan to use it again until early March.
Gatzimos said he and Gayle are thankful it appears no one was injured. Gayle has been in contact with Gay's sister, who apologized for his actions, Gatzimos said. Gay was being transported to Alabama to face theft charges when he fled, officials have said.
"We just really feel for the family," Gatzimos said. "The mother apparently has a week left to live. The family is going through a lot and this fellow, he has always helped his family, apparently."
One of Gayle's drivers likely will retrieve the bus today or Monday from Daytona Wrecker Service. Gayle's company will have to pay for towing and storage -- a few hundred dollars -- to get it out. She had not posted anything on her Web site Saturday about the bus' discovery.
Matt McNamara, who owns Daytona Wrecker, said he has been flooded with media requests.
"They all want to come in and film it and all," he said. "We don't let anybody in but the owner. They can call the owner. I mean, it's hers."
Daytona police had been looking for the bus since Friday evening, when police in Polk County said Gay may be headed that way.
The bus was spotted Thursday at USA International Speedway in Lakeland, where Gay may have tried to pass himself off as a member of the Joe Gibbs Racing team who had come to pick up racing star Tony Stewart.
Daytona police had seen the bus earlier Friday evening dropping off a prostitute, Beres said. But they didn't have information about the stolen vehicle at the time, Beres said, and didn't think much about it.
Vacationers who flock to the beaches of Volusia County and the area's world-famous speedway sometimes travel in elaborate buses such as the one authorities say Gay stole. Local police and others wouldn't be suspicious seeing a motor coach tooling around town, Beres said.
Jail authorities said Gay is scheduled to appear before a judge this morning. Beres said he likely will be extradited to another state to face charges.
Officials with the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department said they are not sure if they will charge Gay.
"He might spend 10 years in prison before he would be released to answer questions on the bus here," said Nashville police Capt. Richard Foley.