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Manatee authorities says pursuit preceding fatal St. Petersburg crash was justified

The Manatee County Sheriff's Office says the cross-county pursuit that preceded a crash that killed a St. Petersburg man earlier this month was justified.

"The MCSO policies, rules and procedures were followed during this pursuit," Lt. Dale Couch wrote in a report about the incident.

At about 9:40 p.m. Sept. 3, a Manatee deputy began chasing a Lexus sport utility vehicle reported stolen out of Clearwater a few days earlier. The deputy had information that Ramesse N. Harris, 16, of Bradenton, was behind the wheel.

Harris reached 90 mph as he sped through Bradenton, Palmetto and across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, according to police reports.

The teen eventually exited at 31st Street S, prompting the Manatee deputy to end the pursuit.

Authorities say no one was chasing the Lexus as it sped down 31st Street, ran a red light and slammed into 56-year-old Gary Lane Smith's car at 9:54 p.m. at the intersection of Fifth Avenue S and 31st Street S.

Manatee officials say they stand behind the deputy's decision to pursue the vehicle, even after it entered another county.

The agency allows deputies to pursue suspects who they believe have committed felonies. The chase also did not violate state law, which allows pursuits to cross jurisdictions.

"We have several sets of eyes that review," said Dave Bristow, a spokesman for the Manatee County Sheriff's Office. "We didn't find anything in the review that changed anything."

Manatee officials said Harris, who has more than a dozen juvenile arrests as a juvenile, also is a suspect in several other recent crimes. Clearwater police said they are investigating if he was involved in a carjacking.

"He also is a robbery suspect in several other robberies here and in other jurisdictions," Bristow said.

After the crash, Harris was booked into the Pinellas County Juvenile Assessment Center on charges of vehicular homicide, leaving the scene of a crash involving death and aggravated fleeing and eluding involving a death.

The day after the crash, Smith's family members publicly questioned the actions of the Manatee sheriff's office. They could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Manatee authorities says pursuit preceding fatal St. Petersburg crash was justified 09/15/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 10:20pm]
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