Police chase starts in Tampa, ends in St. Petersburg

Police say a man in a BMW convertible led them on a high-speed chase from Tampa to St. Petersburg along Interstate 275 early Wednesday.

The chase started about 3 a.m. when a Tampa police corporal noticed the car running red lights southbound on Armenia Avenue near W Main Street, police said.

The corporal turned on emergency sirens to pull over the 2004 BMW. Police said the vehicle hit 120 mph amid traffic on I-275 S.

A Tampa police helicopter followed, but it could not match the car's speed, according to an arrest affidavit.

The driver tried hiding from authorities by turning off the headlights and drove to 11150 Fourth St. N.

He abandoned the car, but the helicopter continued tracking him.

The helicopter crew guided police to a staircase where the suspect was hiding.

Police arrested Artez Leon Hooker, 27, of 4641 15th Ave. S, on a charge of fleeing and eluding an officer, a felony.

They added a drug possession charge when the officer who took Hooker out of the patrol car found a plastic bag containing marijuana in the back seat, police said. The car had been cleaned before the corporal started his shift, he said, and "no one else had been in the car."

Police noted on the arrest affidavit that Hooker appeared to be under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

He remained in the Pinellas County jail without bail Wednesday afternoon.

From October to March, Hooker — also known as Pop Daddy — has been arrested on charges of reckless driving, fleeing and eluding at high speeds, cocaine possession, and driving with a suspended license.

He has an extensive juvenile record. State records show he has been arrested since age 11 in connection with a strong-armed robbery, auto thefts, and, in December 1998, shooting a man twice his age.

At age 15, he shot a man three times after the man apparently cut off his bicycle at an intersection. About a month later, he got into a verbal fight with the same man at a barber shop. Hooker left after lifting his shirt and showing the man a gun tucked into his pants. Police charged him with tampering with a witness, records show.

Hooker was tried as an adult, found guilty of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and served three years in state prison.

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Police chase starts in Tampa, ends in St. Petersburg 05/12/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 12, 2010 5:01pm]

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