TAMPA — A robbery suspect led police on a high-speed game of cat and mouse on Friday that started in Pinellas Park and ended 40 miles later in Tampa with the death of the driver, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
The suspect was identified by the Highway Patrol as Charles Joseph Collins, 58, of Clearwater. He was trying to ram a trooper's cruiser with his black Jeep sport utility vehicle moments before pulling off Interstate 4 and crashing into a light pole at McIntosh Road, according to the patrol.
The troopers were trying to box in Collins' vehicle and one trooper tried to position his vehicle to knock it off the road, Sgt. Steve Gaskins said. Instead, Collins tried to hit one of them first.
"The trooper felt he was trying to ram him," Gaskins said, "so the trooper kept taking evasive action to keep from being hit."
The pursuit started in Davis Field Park about 12:16 p.m., according to Pinellas Park police, when Collins used a knife to try to rob two women who were pushing a 2-year-old boy in a stroller. The women refused to give up their pocketbooks. Collins left the area in the SUV.
A Pinellas Park police officer spotted the vehicle in a residential area nearby at 12:38 p.m., police said. The officer tried to pull Collins over but he started running stop signs, police said. A supervisor ordered the officer not to chase after him.
But officers trailed Collins as he pulled onto northbound 49th Street. When the SUV was stuck in traffic at the red light at 94th Avenue N, officers approached on foot and tried to arrest Collins, police said. But Collins drove over the curb and sped north.
Collins took U.S. 19 to Ulmerton Road, then drove across the Howard Frankland Bridge. Pinellas Park officers followed, but the agency said it never authorized a high-speed pursuit.
"It really wasn't a chase," said Pinellas Park police Sgt. Brian Unmisig. "They were just following him."
When Tampa police joined on their side of the bridge, the Highway said, speeds started reaching 80 mph. Troopers also joined the effort. After Collins tried to ram them, troopers backed off as they approached McIntosh Road, troopers said.
Collins pulled onto the eastbound exit ramp, the patrol said, then drove onto the shoulder and struck a light pole head-on at 1:18 p.m. Collins died at the scene.
Pinellas Park police also believe Collins is connected to the robbery of a woman on Wednesday at the same park where Friday's incident began. The woman was robbed by a knife-wielding man while eating lunch, police said.