Saturday, January 20, 2018
Public safety

Police pursuit leads to serious crash in downtown St. Pete

ST. PETERSBURG — Michele Descent Farley was driving home Monday afternoon when she heard sirens.

Behind her, about a dozen police cars tore down 38th Avenue N chasing a white Hyundai sedan full of suspected burglars.

They were coming fast.

"It was like a scene out of a movie, except it was less in control," Farley said. "It seemed inevitable to me that the car was going to crash into someone."

Minutes later, it did — first at Fourth Street N and 15th Street, then at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street and Ninth Avenue N, where the get-away car caused a dramatic chain-reaction crash that injured four people, two of them seriously.

After the crash, the four suspects in the car were caught.

Monday's incident — the second time in two weeks that a police chase through the city ended in a wreck — left several in the community shaken.

"They put a lot of people's lives in danger," said Paul Lanir, 51, who was nearly run over by the Hyundai as he rode his bike near Crescent Lake Park. "It was lunchtime. Fourth Street was packed with people. Cars were parted and all up on the sidewalk when it was over."

St. Petersburg police said they will review the pursuit and crash. Part of that review will include whether the chase adhered to the department's policy and if it was safe to pursue.

"At this early stage of the game, the best we can say is that the pursuit appears to be within policy," said spokesman Mike Puetz

Mayor Bill Foster, who had harsh words for Gulfport police earlier this month after a pursuit started in that city but ended in a crash in St. Petersburg, could not be reached for comment.

Police said Monday's pursuit, which lasted about five minutes and reached speeds of 70 mph, started after several people called 911 to report that men were breaking into homes in the Allendale area.

Officers spotted the Hyundai in the 4000 block of Haines Road. The car, which police said was stolen, turned around and sped toward a cruiser, police said. A supervisor authorized a pursuit at 12:47 p.m.

The chase went south to 22nd Avenue N then east to Fourth Street N, where it continued south. About 15th Avenue N, the car collided with another car before veering west through Crescent Lake Park.

Lanir, who uses his bike to deliver advertisements, said he dove into some bushes along the park's border after he realized the white sedan coming up behind him wasn't stopping.

"I'm thinking, this is somebody trying to run me over," Lanir said. "I had to think quick."

The sedan, with officers in pursuit, struck some barriers in the park and continued west to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street, where it continued south toward Ninth Avenue N.

At 12:51 p.m, the Hyundai ran a red light and collided with a beige Toyota Sienna minivan, causing a pileup with a Dodge minivan and a Ford sport utility vehicle that were stopped at the intersection. The vehicles had severe damage and some occupants had to be cut out.

A passenger in the Dodge, Kenneth Holderman, 61, of St. Petersburg, was taken to Bayfront Medical Center in critical condition. The driver, Susan Anderson, 60, also of St. Petersburg, was taken to Bayfront in serious condition.

The driver of the Toyota, Kathleen Thornton, 51, of St. Petersburg, was taken to Bayfront with minor injuries. The driver of the Ford, Kevin Carlson, 50, was treated at the scene.

After the crash, the four suspects bailed out of the Hyundai. One emerged from the car with his pants down and was caught right away. The other three were caught nearby.

They were identified as Quade Laveaux Everett, 16; Jatoney Cortez Robson, 18; Jacquez Z. Lovette, 21, and Dawun Merriex, 17. All live in St. Petersburg and are likely to face several charges, police said.

Police said Lovette was the driver of the Hyundai and will face charges of burglary, grand theft auto, leaving the scene of a crash with injuries, aggravated fleeing and eluding and aggravated assault on a police officer.

After the crash, residents and patrons of nearby businesses flocked to the second crash scene. Debris littered the road.

"This is terrible," said Robert Mellon, 82. "These chases are so dangerous. I have mixed feelings about it . . . what are they supposed to do?"

Mellon said he also witnessed the Gulfport officers chasing a stolen car on July 9. That incident caused some controversy because the St. Petersburg Police Department does not allow its officers to pursue a vehicle based solely on the fact that it is stolen, while Gulfport does.

Monday's case, Puetz said, was a "twofold issue." The suspects were wanted for burglary, a forcible felony under city policy, but they also tried to ram an officer.

"I understand they're trying to get bad people off the street, but you've got to think of the innocents," said Annie Donaldson, 40, who witnessed the crash with her children from her front porch. "They're trying to clean up the streets, but . . . someone needs to be held responsible for this."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643.

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