Pinellas deputy shoots SUV driver on Fourth Street N in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — A Pinellas sheriff's deputy shot a motorist Friday afternoon after the man steered an SUV toward the deputy during a traffic stop, authorities said.

The shooting occurred about noon near Fourth Street and 83rd Avenue N.

Moments earlier, authorities said, Deputy Kenneth Kimberlin tried to pull over a black Ford Explorer that had strayed from its lane and made a U-turn in an "unsafe manner" at 86th and Fourth.

But the driver, Brandon Elliot French, 25, of St. Petersburg didn't stop. Instead, officials say, he kept going north, then turned west on 85th Avenue into a neighborhood.

Kimberlin followed the Explorer, which he said left the roadway several times, went in and out of a ditch and blew a tire. The SUV, which deputies later said French had stolen from a friend, continued on the rim, then knocked over a stop sign before re-emerging on Fourth Street N, this time heading south.

French turned behind a building, and the deputy stopped his pursuit because of traffic, said sheriff's spokeswoman Marianne Pasha.

But when French emerged moments later, just north of Fourth Street and 83rd Avenue, the deputy saw another chance.

The SUV had stopped near the curb lane, so the deputy, who was nearby, used his cruiser to block the other two lanes on traffic before getting out and approaching the vehicle.

Pasha said witnesses told investigators that the deputy told French to show his hands. French accelerated twice toward the deputy, Pasha said.

"We have several witnesses who heard him make several commands," Pasha said. "The deputy was scared that the subject was going to hit him with his vehicle."

The deputy fired three rounds into the Explorer, hitting the driver once in the left shoulder, Pasha said.

Mike Winkler, 22, said he saw the SUV speed down an alley parallel to Fourth Street moments before the shooting.

He saw the driver turn left in between a pizza shop and a bar and try to pull back onto Fourth Street near 83rd Avenue, near a Mobil gas station. Winkler said the driver nearly hit the deputy.

"He was headed right at the cop," Winkler said.

Kimberlin, who's been a deputy for 11 years, has been relieved of his duties with pay while the investigation is under way, which is a routine practice after deputies are involved in a shooting.

French was transported to Bayfront Medical Center and was in stable condition Friday night.

A check of state records shows French's license was canceled in June after several suspensions. His complete driving record was unavailable on Friday, but Pinellas County records show he has had several traffic infractions, including leaving the scene of an accident with damage, reckless driving, driving under the influence, speeding and driving on a suspended or revoked license.

French made headlines in 2007 when he ran over a Largo man after an altercation outside a Tampa bar.

Police said French was driving his friend Justin Moseley's Lexus SUV shortly after 3 a.m. July 11, 2007, when he ran over Frederick "Buck" Williams, 22, in front of Tampa's 2001 Odyssey strip club on N Dale Mabry Highway.

Williams had been celebrating at his bachelor party when police say he got into an altercation with Moseley and French, who told the St. Petersburg Times at the time that the incident started after Williams criticized the Lexus, then punched Moseley.

Moseley, they said, ran away and Williams chased him. French told police he was trying to pick Moseley up when he struck Williams. The two men fled to Pinellas County and called police later to report what happened.

Williams suffered two broken legs. Police at that time referred the investigation to the State Attorney's Office.

Court records indicate no charges were ever filed in the case.

In connection with the incident on Friday, French faces charges of grand theft auto, fleeing and eluding and aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer.

"There may be more charges," Pasha said.

A deputy tried to stop this Ford Explorer after seeing it driving wildly through St. Petersburg traffic.  When he got near it on Fourth Street, a report says, the driver headed straight at him.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

A deputy tried to stop this Ford Explorer after seeing it driving wildly through St. Petersburg traffic.  When he got near it on Fourth Street, a report says, the driver headed straight at him.

Pinellas deputy shoots SUV driver on Fourth Street N in St. Petersburg 11/26/10 [Last modified: Friday, November 26, 2010 11:03pm]

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