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Felon with drugs and gun raced till wrecking, police say

Police recovered a loaded handgun from this rental SUV after its driver crashed. Damien Howard, 29, faces a litany of charges, including aggravated assault by motor vehicle on a law enforcement officer. He’s free on bail.

Photo by Eamonn Kneeshaw

Police recovered a loaded handgun from this rental SUV after its driver crashed. Damien Howard, 29, faces a litany of charges, including aggravated assault by motor vehicle on a law enforcement officer. He’s free on bail.

CLEARWATER — A felon with a cocked, loaded pistol on the floorboard nearly ran over one officer and fled at speeds of more than 100 mph early Monday, police say.

Damien Howard, 29, of Clearwater was arrested after officers deployed two sets of tire-piercing stop sticks that sent the fleeing sport utility vehicle into a traffic control box and its driver to the hospital.

Authorities said the chase began just after 11:45 p.m. Sunday, when officers responded to a "shots fired" call in the area of Carroll Street and saw a driver whom officers later identified as Howard.

Police tried to pull over the blue 2007 Chrysler SUV Howard was driving, but he drove away, nearly running over one officer and almost striking a cruiser head-on, police say.

With police giving chase and a Sheriff's Office helicopter watching from above, Howard led officers and Pinellas County sheriff's deputies in a pursuit through Dunedin and Largo and back into Clearwater, officials said.

He first drove on Douglas Street into Dunedin then turned back into Clearwater, where authorities placed the stop sticks on Belcher Road.

Police said Howard drove over the stop sticks and continued on Belcher near Bryan Dairy Road before running over a second set at Belcher and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard.

During the pursuit, Howard drove at more than 100 mph at times and ran several red lights, according to arrest reports. Traffic was very light at the time, police said.

After that, police said, Howard lost control and smashed into a traffic control device at the corner of Belcher and NE Coachman Road, knocking out power to the intersection's stoplights. Authorities estimated damage to the vehicle, a rental, and the control box at $40,000.

Police said they recovered a loaded 9mm Smith & Wesson handgun from the overturned SUV. They also found a bag containing 31 grams — or more than an ounce — of cocaine, according to the arrest report.

Howard was treated for what police called minor injuries, booked into the Pinellas County Jail and later released after posting $160,400 bail. He could not be reached for comment Monday.

Howard, of 1730 Hunter Lane, was charged with two counts of aggravated assault by motor vehicle on a law enforcement officer, aggravated fleeing and eluding, carrying a concealed firearm, being a felon in possession of firearm, armed trafficking of cocaine, possession of marijuana, driving with a suspended license and reckless driving.

Court records show that Howard has previously been convicted of felony charges that include possession of cocaine and marijuana, sale and delivery of cocaine, fleeing and eluding a law enforcement officer and driving with a suspended license.

Times staff writer Jonathan Abel contributed to this report.

Felon with drugs and gun raced till wrecking, police say 03/24/08 [Last modified: Thursday, March 27, 2008 1:46pm]

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