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Third victim in police chase dies

Richard Haddad from Jordan had been unconscious for eight days since teens fleeing in a stolen car struck his car.

By AMY HERDY

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 30, 2000


TAMPA -- Richard Haddad died Friday at Tampa General Hospital, eight days after his car was struck by a stolen car as its driver fled from police.

"He was an amazing human being," said Richard's mother, Zandra Haddad, who had a message for Tampa Mayor Dick Greco. Greco reinstated the police chase policy shortly after taking office in 1995.

"I wish Mr. Greco were in our shoes for five minutes," she said through tears. "I wish he could feel our emotions . . . and he would not abolish the chase law, but make it more safe."

Haddad, 18, was critically injured Sept. 21 when he was hurled through the back window of his 2000 Pontiac Trans Am after it was broadsided by a stolen Nissan Altima carrying two teenagers, 17-year-old Alfred "Alfie" Kearns and 16-year-old Emily Robins.

Kearns and Robins died instantly. Kearns had led police on a seven-minute chase through the streets of South Tampa in the Altima, which had been reported stolen by Robins' father, Walter Robins of Tampa, in an effort to teach his willful daughter a lesson.

The crash unleashed more anguish about a policy that has left at least 13 people dead since 1995. Five of them, including Haddad, have been innocent motorists caught in the chase.

Greco said Friday that he sympathized with the family but was standing firm.

"I'm awfully sorry," he said. "It's terrible. I feel their pain. But I have to do what I have to do to run a city."

The Haddads are from Jordan, and relatives had come from around the world to hold vigil at Tampa General Hospital.

By Friday, Richard Haddad had been unconscious for eight days. Doctors kept him heavily sedated to prevent him from aggravating his most serious injury, a fractured skull that had left his brain swollen. He also had a punctured lung and broken ribs.

The family clung to a slim hope for his recovery after he wriggled his toes and moved one arm two days after the accident. But his condition worsened, and the family decided to take him off life support Friday. He died at 5 p.m.

Haddad was studying computer graphics at Hillsborough Community College. He lived with his 20-year-old brother in an apartment in South Tampa.

Just two weeks before the accident, Zandra and Yousef Haddad had given their son a 2000 Trans Am. It immediately became his most treasured possession. Robert Haddad said his brother kissed the car after every drive.

About 3 a.m. Sept. 21, Richard Haddad was headed home in his Trans Am south on Dale Mabry Highway after an evening out with friends.

As he approached Azeele Street, the stolen Altima being chased by police cars hurtled north on Dale Mabry at almost 90 mph.

Police were unaware the person in the passenger seat was the daughter of the car's owner. Kearns, who was driving, suddenly steered the car into the southbound lane. Haddad tried to swerve, but the Altima broadsided the Trans Am, almost cutting it in half.

Unlike some agencies, the Tampa Police Department allows officers to chase stolen cars even if the driver is not suspected of having committing a violent crime. The policy was adopted in 1995 when Tampa had one of the highest auto theft rates in the nation.

The day after their son's accident, the Haddads traveled for 18 hours from Jordan to reach his bedside. Upon arrival, they criticized the police chase policy as a potentially lethal response to a non-violent crime.

"I really appreciated all of the people who are praying," Mrs. Haddad said, "and I want to send my sympathies to the parents of the other teenagers. I know what it is to lose a child now."

- Times staff writer Linda Gibson contributed to this report.

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