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Deputy says driver tried to run him over

By JONATHAN ABEL
Published May 31, 2007


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CLEARWATER - The car was running unattended in front of a Dunedin convenience store. Pinellas County sheriff's Cpl. James Cooper sensed something suspicious.

He waited until a man came out of the store and got into the car. When Cooper tried to make a stop, the man took off down Patricia Avenue. Cooper gave chase.

Before the night was over, officials say, Cooper would fire a single shot through the windshield of the suspect's car after the man tried to run him over.

A 19-year veteran of the agency, Cooper is a man with a nose for action.

Wednesday's encounter is the second time he has shot at a car that was bearing down on him. He also has been dragged by another car, saved a man from alligators and rescued a man from a burning car.

Here's how events in the latest incident unfolded, according to the Sheriff's Office:

It was just past midnight when Cooper tried to make the stop outside Dodge's Store at 466 Patricia Ave. The car sped south on Patricia into Clearwater. Two and half miles from the store, the driver tried to turn onto Jacaranda Circle S, but lost control and hit a parked car.

Cooper pulled his cruiser to the left side of the suspect's car to block the driver's side door. Then Cooper ran around to the passenger's side of the car to stop the driver from escaping.

But instead of scrambling out, the driver put the car in reverse. Cooper hurried toward his own car to give chase.

That's when the driver started to accelerate toward Cooper, and the deputy fired one shot through the windshield.

But that didn't stop the suspect, who backed up again and escaped - briefly - before crashing into a chain link fence in front of 600 Smallwood Circle.

Deputies were still looking for the suspect on Wednesday. He was described as a black man in his late teens, about 6-foot tall, weighing 170 pounds, with short hair.

The Sheriff's Office released a surveillance video showing him pacing, shirtless, up and down the aisles of the store.

Cooper, meanwhile, was placed on a paid "non-disciplinary relief from duty" while the investigation is conducted.

In 1995, Cooper tried to stop a car on Ulmerton Road. The car sped away and then spun out. The driver tried to run over Cooper who then fired four shots at the car. In that case, the suspect drove off only to be captured later that night.

In 1998, Cooper was trying to help a man in Oldsmar whose car was engulfed in flames. The man refused to get out of the car, so Cooper leaned into the window and punched him. While the driver was stunned, Cooper pulled him to safety. That earned him the honor of Deputy of the Year.

Later that year, Cooper was called out to a lake where a 77-year-old man was up to his waist in the water, surrounded by alligators. Cooper grabbed the man's cane and pulled him to safety.

And in 1999, Cooper was dragged for 15 feet by a car after he tried to stop a suspicious vehicle. He stopped the car and went to talk to the driver. She became furious and slammed the door, catching Cooper's sleeve. She took off and dragged him 15 feet until his sleeve ripped.

Cooper's personnel file is full of commendations for going above and beyond the call of duty. But on Wednesday he declined a request for an interview.

Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or 727 445-4157.

[Last modified May 30, 2007, 20:59:33]


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