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City official caught up in chase

Published December 14, 2005

TAMPA - Tampa City Council member Mary Alvarez was on her way to a meeting in Ybor City Tuesday night when she unknowingly became part of a police pursuit that landed her in an emergency room with minor injuries.

Alvarez, 71, was traveling east on Martin Luther King Boulevard shortly before 5 p.m. when a white Ford Explorer coming from the other direction turned south onto Clearfield Avenue and rammed into her 2004 gold Jaguar, sending her spinning through the intersection.

But what happened next was what really surprised her. The driver of the Explorer, Carlos Luis Rodriguez-Matos, 27, of Tampa, fled the scene.

"I was in shock," she said. "I thought, "This guy is leaving!' "

Then Alvarez watched as two other men in street clothes ran after the driver.

The District 6 council member didn't know that the two men chasing Rodriguez-Matos were undercover Tampa police officers.

The officers had been following Rodriguez-Matos as he tooled through Robles Park a few minutes earlier, his hand out the window as if he was looking to make a drug deal, police said.

Officers Ron Simpson and Mike Distefano watched from an unmarked patrol car as the SUV ran a stop sign. They flashed their blue lights to pull the vehicle over.

But the SUV kept going, taking off westbound on Martin Luther King, driving erratically and then slamming into Alvarez's vehicle.

The impact of the SUV whipping across the front driver's side of her car left Alvarez trapped inside in her seat belt, she said. In time, an officer helped her out through the passenger side.

But a few blocks away, the pursuit continued.

The officers chased Rodriguez-Matos for several blocks on foot, through back yards, over fences, even dodging a pit bull, said Tampa police Cpl. Jim Harris. A neighbor pointed the two members of the District 3 street crime unit toward 3908 N Ola Ave., where they said the man was hiding.

There, they found him in the attic. They arrested him on several charges including leaving the scene of a crash with injuries, driving without a license, obstructing an officer and reckless driving. He is a sex offender who had failed to report his whereabouts and was wanted on several warrants.

Police also arrested James Ivan Barnes, 20, on drug charges. Barnes lived at the Ola Avenue residence, where officers confiscated marijuana and other drug paraphernalia. Irma Bermudez, 20, whom officers described as Barnes' girlfriend, was arrested on a charge of obstructing an officer.

"I'm really glad they caught the guy and he's going to jail," Alvarez said after returning home from Memorial Hospital, where her husband said she was treated for bruising and pain. She had initially turned away an ambulance at the scene of the crash, but eventually her husband brought her in for medical treatment.

Alvarez has served on the Tampa City Council for six years. She was hospitalized briefly last month for what she described as chest pains.

[Last modified December 14, 2005, 00:13:09]

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