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Tampa officer injured in chase that tops 100 mph

TAMPA — It was about 1 a.m. Wednesday when someone saw Nathan Jaron Johnson passed out behind the wheel of a car in the drive-through lane of a 24-hour McDonald's.

Tampa police Officers Eric Book and Tony Gutierrez were dispatched to the restaurant near Gandy Boulevard to check on his welfare, but had trouble rousing him. Finally, he opened his eyes.

Then things turned wild.

Police would spend the next few minutes in an intense chase spanning two counties, reaching speeds of more than 100 mph and injuring a police officer. Johnson would spend the rest of the night in a hospital before heading to jail.

In the drive-through, officers ordered Johnson, 18, to turn off the engine and unlock the doors.

Instead, police said, he turned the steering wheel hard to the right and backed up fast, striking Book in the legs. Book fell to the ground, cutting his forehead. Gutierrez jumped out of the way.

Johnson pulled out of the McDonald's in a 2002 Chevrolet Cavalier and sped south on Manhattan Avenue, police said.

The two officers called for backup and followed. They lost him somewhere south of Gandy, but other officers picked up the chase. Pursuing Johnson was allowed by the city's police chase policy because the car hit Book and almost hit Gutierrez.

Johnson soon turned west on Pearl Avenue and then north on West Shore Boulevard, police said. He worked his way back near where the chase began, stopping for a red light at Gandy and Manhattan.

Book and other officers managed to box him, police said, but Johnson wasn't ready to give up. He rammed Book's vehicle and sped away, briefly going the wrong way in the eastbound lanes of Gandy, said police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.

The police pursuit continued. At some point Book lost control of his cruiser and hit a light pole. He was treated at Tampa General Hospital for minor bruises.

Police followed Johnson west over the Gandy Bridge and then north on Fourth Street in St. Petersburg.

When Johnson slowed to exit onto Interstate 275, police said, Officer Gary Garboski struck the car in the rear, sending it head-on into a light pole. Police then forcibly removed Johnson from the car, and he was taken to Bayfront Medical Center with minor injuries, police said. The chase lasted about 10 minutes.

Johnson faces two charges of aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer, aggravated fleeing and eluding, obstruction, driving without a valid license and probation violation on drug charges, jail records show.

State records show Johnson received an indefinite license suspension when he was just 13 for failing to pay a traffic fine.

The teen has no current address, according to police. He had been arrested several times on drug charges as a juvenile, law enforcement records state. This is his first arrest as an adult.

He was being held without bail Wednesday at the Hillsborough County Jail.

Times researcher Caryn Baird and staff writer Robbyn Mitchell contributed to this report.

Tampa officer injured in chase that tops 100 mph 08/03/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 3, 2011 9:31pm]
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