tampabay.com

Armless driver eludes police chase

By THOMAS LAKE
Published May 9, 2007


NEW PORT RICHEY - For about eight minutes on Tuesday, through the streets near downtown, police chased a driver who had no arms and one good leg.

He got away.

He is used to this sort of thing.

Authorities say the driver was Michael Francis Wiley, 40, who overcame three amputations, taught himself to drive with stumps and proceeded to become one of Pasco County's most accomplished traffic violators.

His license has been suspended so many times that driving itself has become a felony.

Which brings us to Tuesday, about 12:50 p.m., when a New Port Richey Police officer spotted Wiley in a suspicious vehicle - a blue Ford Explorer - at a convenience store off U.S. 19, according to Capt. Darryl Garman. When the officer went to investigate, the Explorer took off.

The chase, eventually joined by a second officer, led down the highway to Sunset Road and Veterans Drive, back to 19, back to Sunset, and finally over the bridge into Port Richey.

But the Explorer was spotted a minute later on Grand Boulevard, Garman said. From there it went to River Gulf Road, then south on Washington Street to Massachusetts Avenue. About 1 p.m., the officers broke off the chase because it could have put others in danger, Garman said. The Explorer was last seen heading south on Grand.

Police will seek an arrest warrant for Wiley today; charges could include fleeing to elude and habitually driving with a revoked license.

If it really was Wiley behind the wheel Tuesday - and it is hard to imagine him being confused with another driver - this was not his most spectacular car chase. In 1998, while driving a green Corvette, he led deputies down Interstate 75 at nearly 120 mph.

According to court records, Wiley has stolen a car, kicked a state trooper and attacked his wife headfirst. He is awaiting trial on separate drug and illegal-driving charges. He faces up to five years in prison.

Most Ford Explorers have automatic transmissions, though several people say Wiley is perfectly competent with a stick shift.

"He is one of the best drivers I've ever seen in my life, " said Lee Michie, a longtime acquaintance. "But he's the worst person I've ever met."

Thomas Lake can be reached at tlake@sptimes.com or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6245.