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Paralyzed outlaw evades deputies for days in the Green Swamp

Terry Keith Yates had been evading capture for a week.

Law enforcement from Pasco, Hernando, Lake, Polk and Sumter counties, as well as state officers from the Highway Patrol and Department of Transportation, had been chasing him by car and air, on foot and with dogs.

They'd catch a glimpse of the 27-year-old and he'd take off, tearing out of sight on dirt roads, barreling through the Green Swamp, clouds of dust and broken underbrush in his wake.

Yates, who is paralyzed from the waist down, is one of Pasco's most notorious drivers.

On Sunday, the day he was caught, he was using a homemade walking stick on the gas and brake pedals.

The chase lasted two hours.

By the time it was over, Yates' Jeep was mangled and pierced with at least three bullet holes. He was charged with two counts of attempted murder on a law enforcement officer.

• • •

The hunt for Yates began the morning of April 3 on Slaughter Road in Lacoochee. A Pasco deputy pulled up behind a green Ford F-250 parked on the side of the road. The driver started the truck, pulled out and made a U-turn.

The deputy recognized the driver: Yates, whose license was revoked in 2007. Yates was also wanted on several warrants for failing to appear in court on traffic infractions and resisting arrest. The license plate came up as stolen out of Citrus County.

The deputy turned on his lights and siren. Yates was stopped at a railroad crossing. The gates were down. The train was coming.

"Terry looked directly at me, accelerated and drove around the crossing arms," a report states.

The deputy followed him to Clay Sink Road, but eased off because backup was far away and Yates had a "history of being armed," the report states. Yates popped up later in Zephyrhills.

A Polk County Sheriff's Office helicopter tracked Yates but lost him when it had to refuel. The search was called off.

"The suspect was last seen off Devils Creek Road."

He was driving into the woods.

• • •

Law enforcement agencies in the area were told to be on the lookout for Yates, described as unshaven with blue eyes and brown hair. He answers to "Money" and his teeth are listed as "missing." He is a homeowner. His address is 38922 Coit Road in Lacoochee.

Yates has spent much of his adult life either in jail or wanted by the law. He has been arrested 11 times by eight different agencies. In 2004, he was sentenced to a day in jail for allowing a caged Rottweiler to starve to death in his backyard. Authorities were called when neighbors complained of the decaying stench. Yates has never served time in prison.

When he was 2 years old, a car crash paralyzed him from the waist down. When he was 9, Yates told a newspaper reporter doing a story on inclusive classrooms that he liked being a daredevil on his wheelchair.

"I can pop wheelies," he said, grinning.

From the Pasco jail, where he's being held in lieu of more than $1 million bail, Yates declined to be interviewed. The Times was unable to reach any of his relatives.

• • •

On April 4, deputies followed a trail through the forest and found the truck, where Yates apparently abandoned it after it got stuck on cypress tree roots. The side steps had been sheared off.

• • •

On April 6, they found Yates.

It was just after midnight, again on Slaughter Road. He was in a white Jeep parked in a yard.

"Using my flashlight, I lit up the vehicle's passenger compartment and I was able to identify the driver as Terry," a report states. The deputy pointed his gun toward Yates and said: "Sheriff's Office, show me your hands!" the report states. "Terry disobeyed my command and started the vehicle. Terry then placed the vehicle in reverse and drove the vehicle away from me through a fence … I yelled at Terry to stop but he again disobeyed our commands."

Yates escaped. Again.

• • •

It ended on Easter Sunday.

The investigation led deputies to a house on Mercer Road in Lacoochee. Before they could nab him, Yates got into his Jeep and sped away. Deputy Elissa Elders, 32, found his Jeep parked south of Clay Sink Road.

"He pointed a finger at her," the report states, "and aggressively and deliberately drove his vehicle directly at her in an attempt to run her over."

She dove out of the way. The Jeep came within two feet of her.

A few miles away, Sgt. Steven Greiner was about to place spike strips that deflate tires on a road when Yates drove up. Greiner was standing outside his vehicle. Yates "swerved his vehicle at him," the report states.

Greiner also jumped out of the way. He fired his gun at the fleeing car, hitting it at least three times. The chase went through Lake and Sumter counties, paved roads and dirt roads, and ended in Webster on Florida 471 and County Road 788.

"It's the middle of nowhere," said Lt. Bobby Caruthers of the Sumter Sheriff's Office.

The Jeep drove over spike strips and deputies shot at the tires. The vehicle stopped.

Yates surrendered, his hands up, Caruthers said. He was carried out the Jeep, which was impounded along with his homemade driving stick. Deputies found marijuana and oxycodone on him and a gun, ammunition and methamphetamine inside the Jeep, Caruthers said. Yates' next stop was the Pasco jail.

He has pending charges in Sumter, Lake, Hernando and Madison counties. Citrus County has not yet charged Yates in connection with the stolen pickup.

"We are very fortunate no one was hurt," said Pasco Sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin.

"It was a pretty hairy situation," Tobin said. "It could have gone either way."

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6229.

Paralyzed outlaw evades deputies for days in the Green Swamp 04/13/12 [Last modified: Friday, April 13, 2012 10:44pm]
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