SPRING HILL — A deputy spotted the yellow Chevrolet Cavalier just after 3 a.m. Tuesday. The vehicle had no license plate, authorities said, so the deputy flipped on his siren and emergency lights.
The Chevy bolted, a report said, speeding south on Deltona Boulevard at more than 100 mph. As the deputy lost sight of the suspect's vehicle, he switched off his lights and, at a normal speed, also drove south.
At the intersection of Deltona and Spring Hill Drive, the deputy heard what sounded like a speeding car just north of him. He made a U-turn and headed north until, a report said, he again spotted the Chevy driving east on Canterbury Street toward Deltona.
When the driver noticed the patrol car, authorities said, the vehicle careened across Deltona and through a yard where it smashed into a tree.
Minutes earlier, investigators said, the vehicle had struck a stop sign.
The driver, who deputies identified as 32-year-old Benito Cuevas of Wesley Chapel, stepped out of the car. The deputy ordered him to the ground and handcuffed him. Cuevas' girlfriend, Victoria Valentin, was in the passenger seat.
Before she was taken to a hospital, Valentin told investigators Cuevas had tossed a pistol from the Chevy as he fled, according to the report. The suspect denied it.
After more than two hours searching the path the Chevy had driven, deputies found a black Ruger handgun in the front yard of a house on Deltona near Norbert Street.
The hammer was cocked, authorities said, and a .40-caliber full metal jacket round was in the chamber. Fifteen feet away they discovered a magazine loaded with nine more rounds.
At the time of the incident, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office had four warrants out for Cuevas' arrest. Pasco sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin said the suspect had failed to appear in court to face charges of driving with a suspended or revoked license, driving without a driver's license and a pair of drug charges.
In Hernando, Cuevas was arrested on six criminal counts related to the incident and the gun possession. He is being held in the Hernando County Detention Center in lieu of $41,250 bond.
Cuevas has a lengthy criminal history dating to 2001, mostly on charges of burglary and fraud.
He has previously been arrested in Orange, Pasco, Seminole and Polk counties.
Sheriff Al Nienhuis said his deputy was wise not to pursue Cuevas, though situations like this one show how difficult that choice can be.
"This suspect fled from law enforcement, mowed down a stop sign, threw a loaded handgun into someone's yard, and continued to travel at a high rate of speed for several minutes, even after the deputy turned off his emergency equipment. The criminal didn't stop until he crashed into a tree. It is obvious that this individual was determined to get away, regardless of whose life he endangered. This is a perfect example of the frustration felt by deputies when deciding whether or not to pursue a fleeing driver," Nienhuis said in an email. "Law enforcement professionals have no good alternative when presented with a fleeing motorist. Whether they chase or not, a tragedy can result."
John Woodrow Cox can be reached at (352) 848-1432 or [email protected]