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    Man faces charge of mail theft

    The 30-year-old was released from a hospital Tuesday after being chased down by a postal employee with a pistol. If convicted, he could spend up to five years in prison.

    By ED QUIOCO, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published September 11, 2002

    OLDSMAR -- A day after darting across six lanes of rush hour traffic with a pistol-packing postal inspector on his heels, a 30-year-old Tampa resident was released from the hospital and taken to county jail.

    Joel Alsina, of 2424 State St. W, appeared in federal court in Tampa on Tuesday afternoon on charges of stealing or receiving stolen mail. If convicted, Alsina could face up to five years in federal prison, said Linda J. Walker, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Tampa.

    The chase began Monday at 5:43 p.m. when Alsina entered the back door of the Oldsmar post office on Tampa Road and Bayview Boulevard after it had closed for the day. There have been other break-ins at the branch in the past year, so inspectors were watching it, Walker said.

    Although Alsina has never been a postal employee, Pinellas County sheriff's officials said he used a key to get in.

    When two inspectors tried to arrest Alsina, he bolted out of the back door. Alsina sprinted to Tampa Road and tried to run across six lanes of traffic with postal inspector A.C. Wagner chasing him, accounts say.

    "They were really running, moving like lightning," said Reita Lockridge, 54, of Oldsmar. "It all happened very quickly."

    Three cars swerved and sideswiped each other when Alsina darted in front of them. Although Alsina was struck by two cars, he still managed to put up a struggle against Wagner, who closed in to make the arrest.

    The two wrestled on the side of Tampa Road as bystanders and drivers watched. During the struggle, Wagner pointed his handgun at Alsina and yelled that he was under arrest.

    Lockridge and her 34-year-old daughter Regina McClain were in a nearby parking lot and called 911 while the men wrestled.

    "We saw the whole thing, and we were like: 'Oh, my God,' " said Regina McClain, 34, of Clearwater. "If I had a video camera, I would have won some money. It was action-packed."

    At one point during the struggle, Wagner reholstered his weapon so he could wrestle with the suspect. Alsina's shirt and tie came off during the struggle. He was wearing an white oxford shirt with a red tie, a ball cap and navy blue pants and sneakers.

    Because the inspector wore khaki shorts, a gray T-shirt and sneakers, witnesses said at first they didn't know he was a law enforcement agent. Then they heard him yell at the man that he was under arrest.

    "It was a tussle," said McClain, who was in a nearby parking lot with her mother. "I was scared (the suspect) could get the gun away from him. I thought, 'Wait a minute, what if the bad guy gets the gun from the good guy?' "

    Alsina, 5-foot-9 and 216 pounds, was pinned to the ground by the much larger Wagner until deputies arrived.

    "At that point, the guy figured he was pretty much immobilized," said Kurt Kucera, 20, who works at nearby Gulfstream Pools and Spas.

    Alsina was taken by ambulance to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa with injuries to his hip or pelvis, but was released early Tuesday and booked into the Hillsborough County jail. Wagner, who declined to comment, had a bandaged left knee after the scuffle.

    "It was like one of those things you see on that Cops television show," Lockridge said Monday.

    David Montelione was driving one of the three cars that had to swerve to avoid hitting the suspect.

    "They say I hit him, but I don't know if I did hit him," said Montelione, 26, of Palm Harbor. "I was looking to see how I could steer out of the way, not what was going on."

    Alsina has a nine-page criminal history, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement public records. His charges range from possession of drugs and driving under the influence to burglary, aggravated battery of a police officer and strongarm robbery.

    Alsina was released from the hospital early Tuesday. He was held without bail at the Hillsborough County jail on Orient Road and was classified as an escape risk.

    -- Ed Quioco can be reached at (727) 445-4183 or Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report.

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