CLEARWATER — Arline Wall called in sick from her job at the travel agency Thursday, and it's good that she did.
Usually, the 71-year-old travel consultant sits in the corner office of the squat building on Court Street — the exact spot the driver of a speeding sport utility vehicle obliterated while fleeing police.
"I think it's the first time I can remember that I'm thrilled I didn't feel well," Wall said in a telephone interview from home.
The events leading up to the crash started at 4:43 p.m. with a gold SUV making an illegal U-turn at Myrtle Avenue and Cleveland Street in Clearwater.
A Clearwater police car made a U-turn to follow the gold SUV and attempt a traffic stop. That's when its 45-year-old driver punched the gas, according to police spokeswoman Elizabeth Daly-Watts.
The driver, identified as Randy Sparklin, of 102 Indian Rocks Place in Largo, made a quick left and a quick right trying to elude the police. He didn't make it more than a few blocks before running a stop sign, swiping a red SUV, and sending his car sideways through the front wall of Bowen-Keppie Travel at 825 Court St., police said.
Daly-Watts said this was not a police chase. She said the officer was two blocks away when the crash occurred and had just turned on his emergency lights.
Why Sparklin, who was flown to Bayfront Medical Center in serious condition, ran was unclear; police are checking to see if the vehicle was stolen. Sparklin faces several charges, including reckless driving with serious injury and fleeing and eluding, police said.
An 85-year-old woman in the red SUV was also flown to Bayfront Medical Center in serious condition. Three others in the red vehicle were taken to Bayfront by ambulance for precautionary measures. None of the injuries was life-threatening, police said.
After the crash, roughly 20 police officers descended on the scene along with firefighters and two medical helicopters.
The collision shook the building like a bomb, said Kim Evans, the president of the condo association for the six offices on that strip, including the one that was damaged.
Steve Peterson, who works in the travel agency, looked up to see bricks flying through the air just 6 feet from his desk. He has been working in the office since 1992, and it was the fourth time a car has crashed into the building, he said.
No one in the office was hurt, but it has been evacuated and will be closed until the building inspector can examine it.