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Gulfport police will review chase policy after pursuit into St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — Gulfport's police chief said his agency will review its pursuit policy after a chase Monday ended with a stolen car crashing into a bus in St. Petersburg.

The agency will examine portions of the policy that relate to pursuing vehicles into other jurisdictions, Chief Robert Vincent said Tuesday.

"I'm not saying we're going to change the policy," he said. "But I'm going to talk more with others about it."

Both Gulfport and St. Petersburg policies state that officers can only pursue a vehicle if they believe the driver has committed or attempted a "forcible felony" and poses a threat.

But in St. Petersburg, police do not pursue a vehicle based solely on the fact that it was stolen.

Gulfport's review will only look at components of the policy that address pursuits that stretch into other jurisdictions, Vincent said. The agency's current policy says only that officers must notify the local law enforcement agency of a pursuit once it crosses into its jurisdiction. But that might not be enough, Vincent said.

"Was a pursuit of a stolen vehicle itself a violation of the policy? No," Vincent said. "But there's all sorts of other questions we will look at in the review."

Monday's chase began about 5:50 p.m. when Officer Jesse Kellington tried to stop a stolen Toyota Venza at the intersection of Gulfport Boulevard and 51st Street S, Vincent said. The Toyota fled north; Kellington pursued.

It ended 14 minutes later at the intersection of 11th Avenue and 25th Street S, where the Toyota crashed into the side of a PSTA bus, which veered off the road and plowed into a house.

The driver of the car, Derrick Mims, 21, and a passenger, Chad Springer, 20, were taken to a local hospital with serious injuries. Mims' 2-year-old son, who was in the backseat, was also hospitalized as a precaution, police said. Mims was released Monday night and booked in the Pinellas County Jail on charges of grand theft auto, fleeing and eluding, and neglect of a child.

The exact turns the cars took through St. Petersburg were not disclosed, but police said the pursuit went several miles, stretching as far north as 38th Avenue N before looping back south.

John Ferguson saw officers following the car about 6 p.m. at the intersection of 38th Avenue N and Haines Road.

"It was flying about 70 or 80 mph," Ferguson said. "There were at least five police cars. I was surprised to see a Gulfport police car that far into St. Pete."

At some point, the cars ended up on Fifth Avenue N, where they entered Interstate-375 and merged onto I-275 before getting off at 28th Street S, police said. The Toyota then turned into the Jordan Park neighborhood.

After the crash, St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster said the chase would not have happened had it started in the city. On Tuesday, Foster acknowledged that the pursuit policies for local law enforcement agencies, including Gulfport police, are consistent.

"There's nothing wrong with the policy," Foster said. "It's the implementation. It's all in weighing the risk factors."

Times staff writer Craig Pittman contributed to this report.

Gulfport police will review chase policy after pursuit into St. Petersburg 07/10/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 10, 2012 11:08pm]
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