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Driver arrested after Pasco chase is not suspect in fatal hit-run

PORT RICHEY — Four minutes after a Tarpon Springs grandmother was killed in a hit-and-run accident on Friday, the 2003 blue Dodge pickup flew northbound through the darkness on U.S. 19 near Ridge Road.

A Pasco deputy spotted front-end damage and thought the vehicle may have been the same blue truck that hit Geraldine Ford moments earlier. At 10:48 p.m., the deputy turned on his emergency lights and siren, according to a report from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

The driver kept going.

"We tried to stop him," said sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll, "because we thought it was him."

Instead of stopping, Damon B. Blanford erratically changed lanes, ran red lights and sped up to about 130 mph in a 45 mph zone, the sheriff's report said. In the backseat were two children, ages 2 and 4, the report said. Neither of them were restrained.

Blanford, 28, made sudden U-turns and turned off his headlights before running a red light, the report said.

Deputies said he even tried to hinder the pursuit by throwing trash from the truck's window onto their path.

After 27 miles, the Lakeland man had ended up in Hernando County. He bailed out of the truck at 10008 Gifford Drive, just south of Cortez Boulevard, leaving the children behind, the report said.

As he fled on foot, authorities said, a loaded handgun fell from his waistband.

He was arrested on charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm, grand theft, child neglect, driving with a license suspended or revoked and fleeing and eluding. Blanford, of 1501 Providence Road in Lakeland, is being held at the Hernando County Jail in lieu of $39,000 bail.

The two children in the truck with him were not Blanford's, said Lt. Cinda Moore, a spokeswoman for the Hernando County Sheriff's Office. They are in a relative's care, Moore said.

During an interview with authorities, Blanford said he refused to stop because he had no valid driver's license, was speeding and had other warrants for his arrest.

Blanford has been arrested for numerous felonies, records show, and he has been convicted of possession of drug paraphernalia and trafficking cocaine, records show.

But Blanford wasn't the driver who hit Ford.

After his arrest, authorities took a look at Blanford's vehicle, said Sgt. Larry Kraus of the Florida Highway Patrol. They checked Blanford's truck for exterior damage and any torn clothing under the vehicle, and determined his blue truck wasn't the one they were looking for.

Ford's death and Blanford's arrest "were unrelated," Kraus said.

Ford was crossing the road on Friday night after buying a phone card to call her son to pick her up from her best friend's house.

She was in the crosswalk at U.S. 19 and Moog Road when a dark-colored pickup truck, possibly a blue Chevy Silverado with furniture in its bed, rammed into her at 10:44 p.m., according to the Highway Patrol.

Ford, 53, was then hit by a red sedan. Both vehicles kept going.

Denean Ford, 37, who is Ford's daughter, said the last time she saw her mother alive was a shopping trip the two had taken the day before she was killed. She said she and her mother shared a strong resemblance and got along "more like sisters than mother and daughter."

Ford said she was at the scene where her mother was killed when an officer told her a deputy spotted a truck that fit the description of the one that hit her mother.

For a moment, she recalled, "I was kind of hopeful."

Since Friday, thoughts about who may have hit her mother and continued driving have hung over Denean Ford's head like dark clouds.

She's planning a funeral for Saturday, but wants to put the situation behind her. She says that's the best way to cope with any thoughts of vengeance toward whoever killed her mother.

"I'm not mad anymore, because I have to be strong for my brother, sister and grandmother," she said. "It's up to the Lord to do what he wants to do to them."

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at cspencer@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4609.

FAST FACTS

Help needed

The crash involving Geraldine Ford is still under investigation. Anyone with information should contact Cpl. A. Palese at the Florida Highway Patrol at (727) 841-4181 ext. 173.

Driver arrested after Pasco chase is not suspect in fatal hit-run 06/17/09 [Last modified: Thursday, June 18, 2009 5:14pm]
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