tampabay.com

Child abuse call starts chase; crash ends it

A 911 caller reports a woman beating a boy and describes the stolen car she drove.

By BILL COATS and REBECCA CATALANELLO
Published May 29, 2007


CARROLLWOOD - Deputies had two good reasons to pull over the SUV Monday afternoon.

A witness had reported seeing a woman severely beat a small boy before throwing him in the back seat of a black Porsche Cayenne. And when a deputy ran the license plate, it came back stolen.

Deputies pursued. But the 23-year-old driver didn't stop until she crashed - after tearing through shrubbery, popping a fire hydrant, bowling over a 35-foot-tall concrete traffic light pole and punching a 6-foot hole in the perimeter wall of Village Cove townhouses in Carrollwood Village.

As the traffic lights fell, one cluster shattered the windshield of a gray Toyota Corolla in front of the driver's face.

No one was seriously hurt in the 2:30 p.m. incident.

Hillsborough County sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said the incident started with someone calling 911 to report a woman beating a small boy in the parking lot of the Best Buy near Citrus Park Town Center. The caller gave deputies the car tag number and described the Porsche SUV.

Deputies ran the tags and learned the vehicle had been stolen out of Orange County.

When deputies tried to stop the woman in the Gunn Highway area, she fled, Carter said. Deputies followed as she traveled east on Busch Boulevard, south on Himes Avenue, through a Regions Bank parking lot, onto Waters Avenue, through an Albertsons parking lot, onto Dale Mabry Highway and west on South Village Drive.

The SUV driver finally lost control and crashed, veering off South Village after a sharp curve near Casey Road.

She said it was unclear how fast the vehicle was going at the time of the crash.

As emergency officials responded, they strapped the driver and her adult passenger onto gurneys and took them to St. Joseph's Hospital, though neither was seriously injured, Carter said.

They appeared to be talking and gesturing to paramedics as they were being taken away.

Driver Tamika Tiara Varela, 23, of N Armenia Ave. in Tampa, was booked into Orient Road Jail about 11:30 p.m., where jail records show she is being held wthout bond on charges of aggravated child abuse, aggravated fleeing and eluding, child endangerment, grand theft auto, four outstanding warrants for violation of probation and one warrant for driving with a suspended license, Carter said.

The boy, who appeared to be about 2 or 3, according to Carter, suffered cuts from the car's broken windows. He was not in a child safety seat, she said. He was taken to St. Joseph's Children's Hospital.

Bystanders said the child seemed scared. "He was clinging to the deputy and would not let her go, " said Marty Hales, 52, a resident in the townhouses.

Hales and four friends were gathered at the Village Cove swimming pool when the crash unfolded immediately on the other side of the wall.

"We heard sirens, and we heard booms and we saw the (traffic signal) pole go down, " said Cheryl Romer, 57.

The string of downed traffic signals reached from the southwest corner of the intersection to the northeast corner. Deputies closed the intersection for several hours Monday.