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Fleeing driver hits Gulfport police car in early morning crash

GULFPORT — A police officer's vehicle was struck by a fleeing car Wednesday, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

Gulfport police Officer Justin Guillory, 28, who was hired in February, was released from Bayfront Health St. Petersburg after receiving medical treatment.

The crash ended a brief but eventful few minutes for the driver accused of hitting the officer, Rodney Foster, 36, who is now being held in the Pinellas County jail.

The incident started at about 12:52 a.m., according to the Sheriff's Office, when deputies tried to pull over Foster's 2004 Chevrolet Malibu after it was seen speeding on the Pinellas Bayway. Foster drove away from the deputies and headed east toward St. Petersburg, the agency said. Deputies said they did not pursue him.

Soon after, the sheriff's helicopter spotted Foster driving north on 54th Avenue N near 34th Street. The Violent Crimes Task Force, a joint unit of Pinellas deputies and St. Petersburg and Clearwater officers, tried to pull the Malibu over again. Again, the agency said Foster sped off, and again they did not initiate a high-speed chase.

Then at 1:03 a.m., Guillory was driving his 2017 Dodge Charger patrol cruiser south on 56th Street S, approaching Gulfport Boulevard S, when the Sheriff's Office said the front of Foster's Chevy slammed into the passenger side of the cruiser. The crash forced the Gulfport police car into a parked sport-utility vehicle. Officials did not say if Guillory was trying to find the Malibu at the time.

Foster ran from the Malibu, but was quickly captured and arrested. He was also taken to Bayfront for medical treatment before being booked into the county jail.

He faces charges of aggravated fleeing to elude a law enforcement officer, reckless driving, habitual driving with a revoked license and leaving the scene of a crash involving property damage. He was being held Wednesday in lieu of $10,500 bail.