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    Teen shot 3 times after chase

    Authorities are unsure what happened. They say the shooting occurred after a collision between a deputy and the 19-year-old driver.

    By DEBORAH O'NEIL and MIKE BRASSFIELD

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 29, 2000


    CLEARWATER -- Authorities say a 19-year-old rammed a police car early Saturday and sped off, leading a sheriff's deputy on a 2-mile car chase that ended with the cars colliding and the deputy shooting the teen three times.

    Pinellas County sheriff's officials know how the chase started, but they don't know why the cars crashed or why the deputy shot the youth in the head, neck and shoulder. Investigators did not interview the deputy on Saturday.

    Dennis Casanova, 19, was flown to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, where he was in critical condition Saturday night after undergoing surgery.

    Deputy Kris Lutz, 40, suffered a concussion. He was treated at Countryside Hospital and released.

    "We do not know what kind of confrontation took place at the end of this incident," said Pinellas sheriff's Sgt. Greg Tita. "We'll find out more once we interview Deputy Lutz."

    The chain of events began just after 3 a.m. Saturday when Lutz spotted a 1992 Mazda parked outside a florist's shop at Belcher Road and Dunedin's Main Street, which turns into State Road 580.

    The Mazda's headlights were off. As Lutz approached in his patrol car, the Mazda came at him in reverse and hit the deputy's car, Tita said. The Mazda headed east on SR 580 in reverse, then spun around and continued east with the deputy in pursuit.

    Officials weren't sure Saturday how fast the two cars were going.

    Lutz said on his police radio that he was chasing a car. A second deputy near Countryside Mall tried to stop the Mazda with "stop sticks" -- spiked bars laid across the road. Officials think the Mazda got a flat tire, but it kept heading east.

    At SR 580 and Charles Avenue, the deputy's cruiser and the Mazda collided.

    "We're not sure if it was an intentional collision or not," Tita said.

    What happened next is unclear. At some point, Lutz fired several shots at close range. There were no known witnesses. Other deputies converged on the scene, but none had been close enough to see what happened, Tita said.

    Investigators didn't find any weapons on Casanova, but they found beer in the 19-year-old's car. Also, he had the driver's license of his 23-year-old brother.

    Casanova has lived in Clearwater, Palm Harbor and New Port Richey. This is not the first time he has been accused of leading police on a car chase, according to court records.

    He was jailed Sept. 4 on several traffic offenses. He was charged with five counts of fleeing from officers and one count each of reckless driving, leaving the scene of an accident involving property damage, driving with a suspended license and carrying a concealed weapon.

    Those charges are pending in court.

    Sheriff's investigators began reconstructing the crash Saturday and planned to interview Lutz on Monday. The deputy has been placed on administrative leave -- a routine move in police shootings.

    In July, Lutz was one of four deputies cleared of responsibility for the death of a 44-year-old Largo man in their custody. The deputies had just finished restraining Gerry Wayne Myers on a roadside in Safety Harbor when he stopped breathing.

    The Medical Examiner's Office concluded Myers died of heart disease. State Attorney Bernie McCabe decided the deputies had not used excessive force.

    In 1996, Lutz shot and killed a Labrador retriever in Safety Harbor when it attacked him as he chased a suspect through a back yard.

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