The Lee County Sheriff’s Office recently released aerial footage from this weekend, when a man fled from deputies, wrecked his stolen vehicle, and jumped off the Edison Bridge into the Caloosahatchee River. He survived the fall, and was fished out by deputies. The footage is dramatic.
LCSO says Bryan Gray was driving a van that had been stolen. Now, Grand Theft Auto is a third degree felony. In Florida, that has a maximum penalty of five years. However, unless someone’s record is really bad, it does not generally score out to mandatory prison time. Since Gray fled, he’s also facing charges of fleeing, with a high speed and property damage enhancement, adding on a second degree felony. That takes his maximum penalty up to 15 years, and greatly increases his scoresheet that could lead to a minimum permissible sentence that is more likely to require prison. Plus, his stunt landed him in a hospital and it could have been much worse.
Another case is exemplar of the coverup far exceeding the underlying offense. This week, Courtney Gainey was sentenced in the death of 14-year-old Allana Staiano. She pled out a few weeks ago to charges of Leaving the Scene of an Accident involving death- literally her crime was fleeing the scene. Had she stayed, it may have merely been an accident and a civil traffic ticket. As it is, she was charged with a first degree felony, exposing her to up to 30 years in prison. The charge carries a four-year mandatory minimum prison sentence, but the minimum was thrown out the window as the judge maxed her out at 30 years. It was suggested that she had been drinking that night, but even if she had been drinking to the point of impairment, a DUI Manslaughter is a less serious offense than leaving the scene. Dui causing death is a second degree felony, again with a maximum 15-year sentence. Her flight from the scene directly exposed her to twice as much time, and the notoriety of the case likely contributed to such a harsh sentence for a first time offense.
Once more the flight, or the cover-up, ends up being more serious than whatever offense one is trying to avoid.
Austin Westgate fled a Polk County deputy this weekend, initiating a high speed chase that ended up with his vehicle on top of a deputy’s patrol vehicle. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, and deputies were able to arrest the suspect sitting on top of their car.
Deputies responded to a possible burglary, and a suspect jumped into the gold truck. He fled, evaded stop sticks, took out some mailboxes and ultimately struck a steel support cable, causing the rear of his vehicle to pop in the air. Deputies arrested the driver, Austin Westgate, and learned he already had an outstanding warrant for fleeing. Suffice to say he took a bad situation and made it much, much worse.
A local man tried running from the cops, only to end up getting arrested in addition to being wet. According to NBC-2, Shawn Gilligan was allegedly driving a car when a deputy attempted to stop him for running a stop sign. He fled, ended up on a dead-end drive, where he got out and ran. He came across a canal and jumped in, trying to escape. It didn’t work, and he was arrested by deputies on the other side. He ended up having to be taken to a hospital.
It’s worth noting, the deputy initially was stopping him for a mere infraction- for which he would have gotten a ticket. Now he’s facing multiple criminal charges, including felony charges. Any jumping into a canal in Florida is dangerous… he’s lucky it didn’t turn out much worse.
Parks Terry, of St. Louis, Missouri, got WAY out of control on his recent Florida Keys vacation. It started out pretty typically: he had too much to drink and passed out in his vehicle. Being that he was on vacation in Key Largo, his vehicle was a golf cart. He was in town visiting his elderly mother. When he was awoken by a public safety officer, he drove off on the cart, weaving all over the road, first waving at the officer, and then flipping him off. It went downhill from there.
Terry got back to his mom’s house and locked the door. One of the public safety officers tried to force his way into the house, and Terry’s mother barricaded the door by leaning up against it, while Terry laid down and pushed it with his feet. Another officer entered through another door, and was attacked by Terry. As more officers and deputies responded, they ultimately attempted to taser Terry, who grabbed the stun gun. Deputies say that he was tacked, and growled at them like a dog, while rubbing his face on broken glass on the floor.
It several people to finally cuff Terry. They carried him out and placed him in the back of the patrol car, where he continued to lash out. He kicked the door and broke the handle and the window switch. He yelled obscenities at the deputy the whole ride to the substation, which was on a whole other island, Plantation Key, some 40 minutes or more away, with a pit stop at the hospital. Deputies report Terry suffered a dislocated shoulder at some point during the altercation. He is facing charges for Battery on a Law Enforcement Officer, Resisting with Violence, Fleeing, Criminal Mischief, and a DUI. All of those except the DUI are felonies.
It appears that the officers other than the deputies may be sworn officers. If they are merely security officers privately employed, Terry’s aggression toward them would not be protected like the deputies’. For instance, battery on a security guard wouldn’t qualify for the law enforcement enhancement, and fleeing is only a crime if a vehicle flees a sworn law enforcement officer. They may be sworn officers, but it’s uncertain. The DUI and fleeing charges can occur in any vehicle, so it would not be a defense for Terry that he was driving a golf cart, as we’ve seen before. Even if it was a sweet red custom job-golf cart! This appears to be the first DUI we’ve covered on a golf cart… congrats, Terry!
Hopefully some pictures and/or video will come out from this incident, and we’ll be sure to share them here.
A man in Fairfax, Virginia, was suspected of drunk driving and fled from the cops. Isaac Bonsu abandoned his flight, and jumped out to run, leaving the car behind. Unfortunately, he didn’t put the car in park… as he ran around the car, it rolled forward, knocking him down and allowing the cops to detain him and put him in custody. Amazingly, this was in Virginia and not Florida.
Fairfax police released the video this week: and it’s AMAZING!
While it looks all glamorous and sexy in the movies, high speed chases are among the most dangerous encounters by law enforcement. The number one cause of death for police officers are traffic crashes, and high speed chases are a high-risk endeavor. Not only do such chases put the officers at risk, pedestrians and other drivers are also at a high risk. Most departments must limit when high-speed chases are undertaken, due to the risk, and that means they simply must abandon pursuit of some offenders.
A new invention may allow police to avoid high-speed chases, and even to catch more offenders after backing off. A company called StarChase has created a device that launches GPS-tracking devices as projectiles that attach themselves to other vehicles. The idea is, the officer fires his StarChase unit, which then sticks to the fleeing car, and the officer can back off. They can follow at a safe distance until the offender can be apprehended at lower speeds. Testing has shown some success, though the device has been attaching at only about a 50% clip. That’s not a bad start for a trial run, and it could save many lives in the future.
Don’t run from the cops, kids. We have seen several cases that were even worse than this young man who lost three-quarters of his forearm. Not worth it. For more, check it out some previous stories, here and here on Crimcourts.
There was another high-profile fleeing case on Easter, as a man riding an ATV in traffic on Palm Beach also fled from an attempted traffic stop. That man also ended up crashing his vehicle, though he ended up stuck in a ditch, and with less serious injuries. Robert Hayden Jr. was charged with fleeing, as well as possession of marijuana and for gun charges. Failing to stop for law enforcement officers is a felony in Florida: so many times the fleeing charge ends up being more serious than whatever infraction for which the cops initially tried to stop somebody.
While it (obvioiusly) happened in Florida, it was apparently a Wisconsin man that was arrested after leading officers on a low-speed chase on the seven mile bridge driving a backhoe. Poorly. 59-year old Carl Blahnik was carrying a Wisconsin ID when he was arrested, but authorities believe he had decamped to Florida, and was homeless in the Keys. Deputies pursued and ultimately arrested him for multiple charges after deploying stop sticks to deflate the tires of the backhoe. And the Monroe County Sheriff was nice enough to post the video online!
He drove around on the bridge for an hour and a half, doing all sorts of damage, and effectively shutting the only roadway to the southern keys. Alas, no DUI charges for the backhoe… no indication from the story why; other than to suggest a bizarre joyride.
It goes without saying that crime doesn’t pay. Riggins and an accomplice were spotted trying to break into a house (he also contacted his girlfriend before and during his attempted burglary and escape). Many times, the flight from the crime exacerbates the problem, often worse than the crime itself. Just a few weeks ago, I wrote an article titled: “Don’t Jump in the River When the Cops are Looking for You.” While that guy had to be rescued by law enforcement, it certainly can get a lot worse, as Mr. Riggins found out the hard way.