POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Danny Riley saw a cross-county high speed chase come to an end right in front of his eyes in Tampa.
“I’ve seen this car come about 70 or 80 miles per hour, hit the curb and became airborne and hit that vehicle,” he said.
He said he narrowly missed being hit himself.
“We had just moved. If we had stayed where we was parked at, we could have been a fatality,” he said.
What ended in a crash in Tampa Tuesday evening, began in Polk City 30 minutes earlier.
Just after 5pm, a Polk County deputy spotted a stolen silver Volkswagen and tried to pull it over. According to an affidavit, the driver, Alvin Mercedes, 21, fled and the deputy pursued him westbound on I-4. Mercedes was allegedly driving over 100 miles per hour and darting between vehicles.
The pursuit ended when Mercedes crashed into a car near N. Jefferson and E. Harrison streets and landed the alleged stolen car on its side. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office cruiser collided with the stolen vehicle as it tried to brake, according to a preliminary report by Florida Highway Patrol.
One person in the car hit by Mercedes was taken to the hospital with “non-incapacitating” injuries, according to FHP. Mercedes is facing several charges including grand theft and fleeing.
“There’s so many things that law enforcement officers have in their toolbox today, that we don’t have to chase people until the wheels fall off,” said Chief Roy Taylor, of Capitol Special Police and expert witness on police practices, including police pursuits. “That’s what we have to look at today, is it worth chasing?”
Taylor said most law enforcement agencies are moving away from pursuing vehicles, especially when the driver is only suspected of stealing a car.
“Stealing a car, it’s just a piece of property. Yes, it is a felony but so is forgery. So you’re saying it’s OK to endanger people’s lives for forgery, you’re saying it’s ok to endanger people’s lives because they’ve stolen a piece of property,” said Taylor.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office declined our request for an interview, but said in a statement both the deputy and supervision determined the pursuit of a “dangerous felon” was allowable.
The sheriff’s office said a “no pursuit policy” tells criminals to steal what they want and victimize who they want because the police won’t attempt to apprehend fleeing felons.
This pursuit, like all pursuits, is under review by the sheriff’s office.