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Fugitive father's odyssey ended

Winston Powell, who spent a month hiding out with his two daughters because their mother was accused of trying to poison them, was arrested Thursday after a routine traffic stop.

His capture by Ocala police was not easy.

Powell sped away from an officer trying to ticket him for speeding in a school zone, then led police on a chase along residential streets where dozens of children were walking home.

His two children _ 8-year-old Rachel and 7-year-old Rebekah _ were sitting in the car with Powell as he drove to a minister's house where he intended to seek refuge. After a short standoff, police said, Powell was tackled and handcuffed as the two youngsters watched.

"I schized out," Powell said later from the Marion County Jail, where he was being held without bail. "As a matter of fact, I really got unnerved when I saw the cop come up behind me. I knew it was all over."

Indeed, a month of staying with friends and avoiding two arrest warrants came to an end less than six hours after a hearing in Hillsborough Circuit Court where a custody battle has loomed over the children.

Powell wants the two girls and their 10-year-old brother, Jonathan, to live with him instead of their maternal grandmother. The grandmother, Barbara Taylor of Tampa, was awarded temporary custody of the children after their mother was accused of trying to kill them.

Saying that Ms. Taylor was allowing the children to continue seeing their mother, Powell refused to bring back the two girls after picking them up for a day of visitation Sept. 25.

"I don't have any regrets about taking the children," Powell said Thursday. "I don't like where I'm at right now. But I feel like God gave these children to me, and I have to look out for them."

At least two warrants have been issued in recent weeks, charging Powell with interfering with a custody order and with contempt of court. As of late Thursday, he also faced nine new charges.

Among them: Fleeing police by speeding away, resisting arrest, assaulting an officer, neglecting the children, carrying a concealed knife in his car and driving with a suspended license.

"I was speeding, and they clocked me," Powell said. "I knew there was an outstanding warrant for my arrest. I knew they would take the girls."

Arrest records say Powell was driving 34 mph in a 20 mph school zone in a residential area of Ocala. A motorcycle officer stopped him, but records say Powell gave him a driver's license with an alias.

Powell "began to act very nervous, pacing about and begging not to be cited," officers wrote in reports. A few minutes later, as an officer leaned inside the car, Powell drove away.

Dozens of schoolchildren were on sidewalks as Powell's 1984 Mercury reached speeds of 50 mph with two police cruisers and the motorcycle officer behind him, reports say.

Finally, Powell stopped a few blocks away at the home of the Rev. Richard Mooneyhan.

Powell said he told his two daughters to run in the house. But as Powell tried to run in himself, officers grabbed him. "I struggled but I didn't hit anybody. I made it inside the house, and they pushed me to the ground and handcuffed me."

His two daughters looked on. "They watched the cops take me right down to the rugs," Powell said.

The two girls were taken into the custody of the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. Ellen Ostman, a Tampa lawyer representing the grandmother, said the family was relieved to learn the girls would be coming home soon.