1. Archive

Dive not enough to divert police

This alleged burglar was all wet. Then dry. Then wet again.

Then under arrest.

When it was over an hour after it began, 26-year-old Jeffrey Wayne Bliss was charged with burglary, trespassing, resisting arrest without violence and attempted grand theft. Bliss, 600 Corey Ave., Apt. 3, was in Pinellas County Jail on Monday in lieu of $13,200 bail.

"He appeared to be very comfortable in the water," said St. Petersburg Beach Police officer Lewis Smith. "It was really his only way of escaping."

The escape _ in the dark water off the east shore of the city, south of the St. Petersburg Beach Causeway _ proved futile. Police, after all, were monitoring from land, in a borrowed boat and a sheriff's helicopter.

The episode began at 12:18 a.m. Sunday, when four women at a waterfront home at 6625 Bay St. called police about a man they'd seen climb into a 21-foot Bayliner motor boat docked behind the home, Smith said.

By the time Smith and his police dog, Arno, responded to what appeared to be a boat burglary, the man had climbed out of the vessel and jumped into the water.

A few minutes later, the man was back on land, Smith said.

"The dog tracked him for about five blocks north, over five blocks worth of fences," Smith said.

Then, in the back yard at 6855 Bay St., Smith noticed a 21-foot boat, hanging from davits, was listing. Smith suspected the man was hiding inside.

"When I got there, the dog jumped over (and into) ... the boat," he said. "(The man) poked his head up. I was about 25 or 30 feet back. I warned him to stop or I'd release the dog."

The man jumped in the water, peeled off his white T-shirt and swam away, Smith said.

Smith said he watched the man swim underwater about 30 yards, take a breath, then swim underwater again. Meanwhile, another officer woke the boat's owner, James Baker, 70, and asked to use it. Although the Police Department has a patrol boat, it would have taken too long to bring it to the scene, Smith said.

About 10 minutes later, the 17{-foot Cobia was in the water, with Smith and Officer Glen Jenkins chasing the swimmer. Arno stayed on land.

Baker, his 31-year-old daughter, Valerie McGivern, and 9-year-old granddaughter, Tammy Massola, watched the chase from the seawall.

The water was dark and choppy, Ms. McGivern said.

"He was a strong swimmer," she said. "He must have been, to get as far as he got as fast as he did _ several hundred feet from shore."

About the time the Pinellas County Sheriff's Department helicopter arrived, the man had been spotted in the back yard of 7005 Bay St., Smith said.

"He gave up," Smith said. "He was tired and he was suffering from leg cramps."

Bliss was arrested at 1:25 a.m., more than an hour after police were called.