TAMPA — A man fleeing a traffic stop crashed early Monday, then jumped into the chilly Hillsborough River, leaving behind a pistol, a ski mask and his two teenage sons, police said.
An officer had to swim to the man's rescue as he foundered in the cold, dark water.
Around 12:05 a.m. Monday, an officer saw three males in a car that had its windows tinted too darkly, a possible violation of state law. Police said a check on the tag showed the car was registered to a 48-year-old Dade City woman.
Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said that the behavior of the males, the car's ownership and its heavily tinted windows aroused the officer's suspicion, so he tried to pull them over. But the driver, Craig Kendrick, 34, of Zephyrhills, sped away, lost control and crashed near Rome Avenue and Columbus Drive.
Kendrick sprang from the car and ran, police said. Two teenagers, later identified as Kendrick's 13- and 16-year-old sons, also tried to flee but were caught about a block away.
The officer who followed the Kia called for backup as Kendrick jumped into the 64-degree Hillsborough River and swam about 30 yards out.
Kendrick soon began struggling and screamed for help. Officers yelled for him to swim ashore, but he refused, police said.
Minutes later, Officer Mark Vazquez ripped the back seat from a police car, jumped in the river, extended the seat to Kendrick and brought him to shore, where other officers were waiting with ropes to pull him in.
Tampa Fire Rescue paramedics treated Kendrick at the scene for hypothermia and chest pain. He was taken to Tampa General Hospital for further examination, then transferred to jail.
A check of Kendrick's record showed he was wanted in Hernando County on armed robbery charges. Police also found a loaded 9mm pistol and ski mask in his car.
Police later learned that the car had not been stolen.
Kendrick was charged with fleeing and attempting to elude arrest, driving with a suspended license, child neglect, being a felon in possession of a weapon, and the two charges for which he was wanted — armed robbery and grand theft.
He had been arrested a dozen times in Hillsborough County, mostly on drug charges, according to jail records.