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Thirst leads to suspect's capture

A man hiding in the woods tries to buy a soda from Tarpon Springs High School, sparking the latest of several chases.

By RICHARD DANIELSON
Published May 14, 2004

TARPON SPRINGS - After two nights of hiding in the woods and being hunted by police dogs, Robert Craig Johnson was thirsty.

But after he wandered onto the campus at Tarpon Springs High School on Thursday morning to get a soft drink, police and sheriff's deputies began yet another chase.

This one veered back into the woods, but it ended with his capture, police said.

Johnson, 45, who was wanted in connection with violating his parole and fleeing a traffic stop Tuesday night, walked onto school grounds at Tarpon Springs High and was stopped by a staff member Thursday morning.

"What he said (about why) he was there was he wanted to buy a soda," Pinellas County sheriff's Sgt. Tim Goodman said.

But the school staff member told him to leave, and he did. Minutes later, the school's resource deputy saw Johnson off school property and approached him.

That's when Johnson bolted, authorities said. It was at least the fourth time in the past three days that he found himself running from police.

Although he ran away from the school, both Tarpon Springs High and neighboring Sunset Hills Elementary School were briefly locked down as a precaution.

"He wasn't really a threat," Tarpon Springs police Sgt. Jeffrey Young said. "He ran away from the schools. But they still had the schools go into a lockdown."

That lasted no more than 20 or 25 minutes, Goodman said.

In the meantime, Johnson ran in the front door and out the back door of a nearby Hess station on Gulf Road, then headed into the woods, police said. Police set up a perimeter, and police Capt. Robert Kochen saw Johnson when he ran out of the woods and in front of his unmarked car.

From there, Johnson ran to the home of an acquaintance on Cleveland Place.

The homeowner, 60-year-old Emmanuel Tsavaris, told police he was just about to take a bath when he heard someone break a back window.

He ran out and told officers setting up a perimeter outside that there was an intruder in his house. He ran out without getting a look at Johnson and didn't know that the intruder was someone he knew, Young said.

Police and deputies surrounded the house. Police Detective Scott Brockew called Johnson on the telephone and talked him into giving himself up without incident at 10:28 a.m. Johnson had minor cuts on his arms from breaking the window.

The search for Johnson began about 9 p.m. Tuesday night.

That's when police Officer Scott Osarczuk pulled over a white Chevrolet Johnson was driving for speeding on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. As Osarczuk approached the car, Johnson suddenly put it in gear and took off, bumping the officer with the car as he left.

Johnson crashed into a fire hydrant nearby, abandoned the car and spent the rest of the night avoiding police and deputies who brought in a dog and helicopter to aid in the search. At one point, police said they tracked him to a cab heading toward his home in the Westwinds subdivision, but he jumped out and ran away when they approached.

Police and sheriff's deputies used a dog to look for Johnson again Wednesday night, but he managed to get away.

"I think he was just sleeping in the woods," Young said.

In addition to being charged with violating his parole, which stemmed from a previous charge of resisting arrest with violence, Johnson was charged with aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer with a motor vehicle, aggravated fleeing to elude, two counts of resisting arrest without violence, leaving the scene of a crash with property damage, trespassing on school property, burglary of a dwelling, speeding and running a red light.

He also was charged with theft of utilities because police discovered that he had found a way to get water at his home at 1031 Mainsail Drive even though the utilities had been shut off.

He was being held at the Pinellas County jail Thursday afternoon without bail.

- Times researcher Jenny Lichtenwalner contributed to this report.

[Last modified May 14, 2004, 01:02:21]


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