LAKELAND (FOX 13) - Detroit Tigers star pitcher Justin Verlander played an unwitting role in a nearly month-long crime spree in Polk County, ending with a car-jacking and a crash.
Police say 24-year old Tyler Demalignon, of Lakeland, is suspected in several car thefts and burglaries - and is now accused of stealing Verlander's temporary license tag and putting it on a stolen vehicle. Officers said Demalignon probably had no idea the temporary tag he took from a pickup truck belonged to the third highest-paid player in baseball, or else he may have also broken into the truck.
Verlander, of course, is in Lakeland for spring training. He was inside a movie theater at Lakeside Village Mall on Saturday when he came out to find his tag missing.
He told police he thought it must have blown off because it's a paper tag, but police later found the tag on a car that had been stolen five days earlier in Auburndale.
It happened Monday. Officers said Demalignon walked up to a driver who was sitting in traffic on airport road, pointed a shotgun at him, forced him into the passenger seat, then got behind the wheel and took off.
The car-jacking victim, Todd Bixby, said he wondered how things would end.
"Am I going to leave to go home to my family, or am I going to die? There's nothing you can say or do.... Would have shot me in a heartbeat," Bixby recalled.
However, the robber eventually let him get out of the truck, but took Bixby's phone. He went to a house and called 911.
Lakeland police say Demalignon crashed the truck into another vehicle while trying to get away from police.
He now faces 27 charges, including kidnapping, armed robbery, and numerous counts of grand theft and burglary.
As for Verlander, Friday he tweeted an article about the crime spree and posted a comment: "true story #crazy #Iminnocent #wasn't me"