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Driver's flight crashes to a stop, injuring three

By MIKE BRASSFIELD

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 29, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- A stolen car ran a stop sign, hit two other cars and injured three people Wednesday evening while being followed by a Gulfport police car, authorities say.

Gulfport police said an officer was trying to stop the stolen car, which had been speeding. However, they said they could not say if the officer was engaged in a full-fledged, high-speed police chase with emergency lights on.

A crowd of nearly 100 neighborhood residents, many of them critical of the police, gathered as authorities closed off the intersection at 18th Avenue S and 35th Street in St. Petersburg.

"They should've backed off," said Cedric Warner, 47.

Gulfport police said the officer was about four blocks behind the stolen car when it crashed about 6:30 p.m.

The drivers of all three cars involved in the crash were being treated at Bayfront Medical Center. Their names were not available, and none of the injuries was thought to be life-threatening.

Gulfport police Lt. Michael Quill said the man driving the stolen car was the target of an investigation by Gulfport police and a second agency.

Gulfport police said one of their detectives saw the man in a blue Chevrolet Prizm near 49th Street S and 22nd Avenue S -- 18 blocks from the crash scene. The detective checked the car's license tag and found that the Chevrolet had been reported stolen.

The detective radioed for Gulfport patrol officers to pull over the Chevrolet. The Chevrolet's driver sped off, Quill said.

Quill said the Gulfport officer was legally allowed to follow the car out of the Gulfport city limits because its driver was involved in an ongoing crime -- suspected car theft and fleeing from police.

The Chevrolet was speeding north on 35th Street when it ran a stop sign and tried to make a wide right turn onto 18th Avenue S, witnesses said. It hit two westbound cars, a gray Ford Escort and a gray Oldsmobile.

"The blue car, it was going at a radical speed," said witness Earl Jones, 27, who was driving a car on 18th Avenue behind the two cars that got hit.

Jones said he pulled over to get out of the stolen car's way. He said he saw the police car's lights flashing but didn't hear sirens.

The crash started three separate investigations:

St. Petersburg police were investigating the accident.

Gulfport police were investigating crimes that they suspected the driver of the stolen car had committed. They said they found illegal drugs in the car but would not provide details.

Gulfport police also will review whether this was a chase and, if so, whether it was justified under department policies.

At the accident scene, Lt. Quill at one point tried to calm down some agitated people by answering their questions about what was going on.

"Put yourself in my shoes," Quill told them.

A woman called out to Michael Torres, the Gulfport officer who had been following the stolen car.

"I hope you feel bad, man," she yelled.

"I don't," Torres answered.

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