Suspect flees from police into toxic Florida algae - then desperately pleads for help

Screenshot from a video released by the Cape Coral Police Department of an arrest following a suspect fleeing into toxic algae. [Cape Coral Police]
Screenshot from a video released by the Cape Coral Police Department of an arrest following a suspect fleeing into toxic algae. [Cape Coral Police]
Published September 5 2018
Updated September 5 2018

Within seconds of splashing into the water as he fled police, Abraham Duarte knew he had made a mistake. Soon he was retching and pleading desperately for the help of the Cape Coral, Florida, officers he had been attempting to escape, figuring that even jail would be better than the slimy, toxic algae in which he was immersed. "Help me. Help me," he cried. "Iím dying. Iím dying."

Duarte had stopped his car on Beach Parkway East last week after he was pulled over for allegedly speeding by police in Cape Coral. According to police, Duarte, 22, made a run for it. Body camera footage showed the officers chasing Duarte on foot. Soon, Duarte found himself trapped in an area known for its crisscrossing canals.

Rather than be arrested, Duarte, who lives in northern Florida, plunged into a canal and attempted to swim away.

Duarte told The Washington Post that when he jumped in the polluted canal, he wasnít thinking about how the state has been beset by a historic and disgusting algae bloom that was dirtying up the waterways. The blue-green algae isnít only smelly - lifeguards and those who live close to water have taken to wearing masks to shield themselves from the stink - itís also toxic. Scores of fish and other wildlife have been killed by the algae and people can be sickened if they breathe it in.

Unfortunately for Duarte, he went a step further and took in several gulps. Duarte said that he had heard about the algae, but he wasnít thinking clearly when he dove into the water.

"There was too much adrenaline," Duarte said. "I had a panic attack."

Duarte ran from police, he said, as a result of some "not-so-nice encounters in the past."

"I was scared," he said.

Allan Kolak, a spokesman for the Cape Coral Police Department, told The Post that police heard Duarte, a native of northern Florida, yelling from the water. Once Duarte reached the canal bank, he gratefully allowed the original officer who pursued him to pull him out of the muck, police said.

"He lives in Ocala, so thereís a chance that he didnít realize how bad the water was," Kolak said. "Once he got in, he was saying, ĎThis is no good.í"

Kolak said Duarte wasnít in the canal for long, but it was long enough to leave him dripping in the gooey gunk once officers helped fish him out.

"It was in his eyes, in his ears, all across his face, all over his body. It was everywhere," Kolak said. "Itís pretty nasty stuff."

A nearby resident loaned officers a garden hose to help clean off Duarte. Police rinsed off Duarte, specifically his mouth, which he requested be cleaned out twice.

Duarte was taken to a hospital, where he was released shortly thereafter. Police said they found seven vials of THC oil in his car. Duarte was charged with possession of a controlled substance and resisting arrest without violence and transferred to the Lee County Jail. He was released on bond Saturday and has not filed a plea.

The charges were announced by police Monday.

Duarte said the algae was gross, and heís still having respiratory and stomach problems because of his swim.

"It smelled like human feces," he said.