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As a police copter trails, man crashes into truck
The driver, trying to elude police, dies later.
By CASEY CORA and REBECCA CATALANELLO
Published June 30, 2007
A Tampa police helicopter hovered overhead and cruisers followed behind him when Aaron Higginbotham ran a red light at 40th Street and Columbus Drive, crashing a white Chevy Suburban sport utility vehicle into a truck carrying glass.
[Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
[Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
Tim Franks, a wrecker operator for Alpine Auto Body and Wrecker Service, cleans up after the accident on Columbus Drive and 40th Street.
TAMPA - Aaron Higginbotham died early Friday morning in the line of police sight - a place records show he spent much of his adult life.
A Tampa police helicopter hovered overhead and cruisers followed behind him when Higginbotham ran a red light at 40th Street and Columbus Drive, crashing a white Chevy Suburban sport utility vehicle into a truck carrying glass, police say.
The impact ejected Higginbotham from his car. He died soon after at Tampa General Hospital on what would have been his 47th birthday.
The incident that led to the crash started just before 4 a.m., when an officer noticed a suspicious vehicle behind a 7-Eleven at W Columbus Drive and N Himes Avenue.
Police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said it appeared as though Higginbotham was poised to break into the convenience store, which prompted the officer to circle the store. The officer then tried to follow when the Suburban drove away.
"He'd obviously spotted the police officer. And the police officer has spotted him, " McElroy said.
When the police officer caught up with Higginbotham again, he saw the SUV run a stop sign on N Glenn Avenue, McElroy said. At that point, the officer, who police did not immediately identify, called a police helicopter to provide backup.
"It was not a police pursuit, " McElroy said, hesitating to classify the pursuit as a "chase, " saying that "officers were able to follow at a safe distance, " and adding "they don't have their lights on, they don't have their sirens on."
Police take the distinction between following and "chasing" a suspect vehicle seriously. They fear that their actions could be construed as placing suspects or bystanders in harm's way.
The officer followed the suspect onto Interstate 275 and eventually onto E Columbus Drive. At one point, police said, Higginbotham turned off the SUV's headlights.
A police helicopter quickly zeroed in on the SUV. McElroy said additional cruisers joined in the pursuit, but she did not know how many.
Once Higginbotham reached E Columbus Drive, police said he accelerated through a red light at the N 40th Street intersection, slamming into a Westshore Glass Corp. truck headed south.
McElroy said the nearest cruiser was 900 to 1, 000 yards away from the SUV at the time of impact and the next nearest cruiser didn't arrive on scene until a minute or more later.
The impact left glass shards in N 40th Street's southbound lanes. The northbound lanes were littered with parts from the mangled SUV.
The driver of the glass truck, William Parks Jr., 72, of 9016 Arndale Circle in Tampa, remains in stable condition at Tampa General Hospital.
Higginbotham, who lived at 3110 E Columbus Drive, had accumulated a lengthy driving record, including 12 arrests for driving with a suspended license.
In total, Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show he'd been arrested 26 times since 1989, on charges including larceny, vehicle theft, grand theft, fraud, burglary and soliciting to purchase cocaine.
Police said the owner of the SUV Higginbotham was driving before he crashed contacted authorities to report the driver had not paid for the vehicle after entering into a "purchase agreement."
In addition to investigating the crash itself, police will examine their procedures leading up to it.
Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at email@example.com or 813 226-3383.
A look at the definitions
What defines a police pursuit?
According to Tampa Police Standard Operating Procedures, a pursuit is "the chase of a vehicle by a law enforcement vehicle when the driver of the subject vehicle clearly exhibits intent to avoid arrest by using a vehicle to flee."
Likewise, "pursuit driving" is "the act of chasing another vehicle, with emergency lights and siren activated ... in order to overtake and apprehend a violator who has disregarded the signal to stop and is maneuvering the vehicle in such a manner as to elude the officer. This definition is applicable regardless of the distance, speed, duration, or number of police vehicles involved in the pursuit, and whether or not an apprehension is made."
To read more go here: www.tampagov.net/dept_police/information_resources/publications.asp. Click "Standard Operating Procedures." Then click on "300." Then click on "386" and scroll down.