CLEWISTON — In an open letter posted on Facebook, Police Chief Don Gutshall applauded the efforts of Clewiston citizens in aiding officers in the capture of a fleeing felon.
On July 17, around 6:41 p.m., Officer Adrian Prado witnessed a silver Nissan Maxima traveling eastbound on Lewis Boulevard, ahead of his patrol car, drive to the right off the roadway and struck a posted street sign on the grass area. The officer pulled up next to the vehicle, and the driver immediately put the car in reverse, backed up and then drove forward, pulling onto the roadway directly in front of the officer’s patrol vehicle. Officer Padro later identified the driver as a juvenile and positively identified them by looking at pictures on their Facebook account.
Thus began the high speed chase; although the Nissan Maxima began at a low rate of speed, the drive quickly accelerated once Officer Padro activated his emergency overhead lights. The vehicle then turned right onto U.S. 27 at a high rate of speed, forcing the vehicles traveling on U.S. 27 to slam on their brakes and narrowly avoid striking the suspect vehicle.
The Nissan Maxima continued to speed down U.S. 27, driving onto the grassy median to pass vehicles blocking its path. From there, the vehicle attempted to drive into the Holiday Inn Express parking lot. As it turned into the driveway, it struck some bushes and came to a complete stop.
Officer Padro parked his car five feet from the suspect’s vehicle and approached the vehicle in an attempt to stop the suspect. The driver side door was locked, preventing him entry, and the driver looked the officer right in the face as he commanded him to get out of the vehicle. Instead, the driver threw the shifter into reverse and sped backwards in an attempt to strike the officer.
The officer, luckily, made a quick side step and barely escaped being struck, and the driver sped away through the Holiday Inn Express parking lot. Officer Padro jumped into his vehicle and began to follow. The Nissan Maxima exited the parking lot and made a right turn onto Sagamore Avenue. Arriving at San Luiz Avenue, where there is a posted stop sign. The car did not even attempt to slow down and instead made a very fast, sharp left turn onto San Luiz Avenue.
From there, the Nissan Maxima zoomed down San Luiz, heading toward the Clewiston Golf Course. From there, the vehicle turned right onto Aztec Avenue, and accelerated once more, and Officer Padro was in hot pursuit as the chase proceeded down Berner Road.
The vehicle accelerated to an even higher rate of speed toward U.S. 27 and began to swerve off and onto the road. The officer followed at a safe distance and witnessed the Nissan Maxima running a red light and almost getting struck by a tractor-trailer traveling southbound. The tractor trailer driver slammed on the brakes and barely missed striking the vehicle. From there, the Nissan Maxima accelerated again, traveling southbound on Hwy 27 and cutting in between vehicles, almost striking several.
The chase continued through Lopez Street, Berner Road, Avenida Del Rio, Banyan Street, Ponce De Leon Avenue, Ridgewood Avenue, Cypress Avenue and Pinewood Street. Officer Padro continued to follow at a safe distance while the Nissa Maxima raced along at high rates of speed. As the Maxima driver raced from Ponce De Leon Ave. onto Balboa PL, the officer received a radio command from Sergeant Favara to suspend the pursuit due to the pursuit entering a high traffic area. This was at 6:48 p.m.
About fifteen minutes later, the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office received a call from Vincent Vontrell Fortune, 26, that his 2009 Nissan Maxima had been stolen. He told the police that he was located on Mississippi Avenue, but the communications division advised that his phone pinged on Bayberry Loop. Officer Padro then traveled to Bayberry Loop and made contact with Fortune, who was in the backyard of the residence, talking on the phone.
Fortune then reiterated that he had called the police because he wanted to report his vehicle stolen. As the officer was speaking to Fortune, he received a call from dispatch that someone had called in and said he was a witness to the vehicle pursuit and was currently traveling behind the vehicle involved. He described it as a grey Nissan Maxima with front end damage. The man then advised the officer that the vehicle was turning left onto U.S. 27 toward Palm Beach County.
Officer Padro, along with Sergeant Brawner, began to travel toward that location. The man who had called in was still following the Maxima and advised the police that the vehicle turned right onto County Road 835. Officers Brawner and Padro made contact with the vehicle and performed a felony stop.
Using the front end damage and the tag, the officers identified the vehicle as the same one involved in the pursuit. The driver was a black female, May Helen Atkins. She told officers that she had been given the keys to the vehicle by the juvenile driver, and she found it somewhere on the side of U.S. 27. Officer Padro then advised her that her son, Fortune, had reported the vehicle stolen and she stated that the vehicle was not stolen, that she’d just spoken to her son on the phone and he hadn’t mentioned anything about his car being stolen.
Atkins then told Officer Padro she didn’t wish to answer any other questions, and she refused to exit the vehicle when asked by the officer. Officer Padro then helped Atkins out of the vehicle and detained her in the back of his patrol car, whereupon her husband arrived. Officer Padro asked Mr. Atkins if he could contact the juvenile driver. The husband did so, and asked the juvenile to meet them at Hookers Points Road, where Atkins had pulled over for the felony stop. The juvenile refused.
Fortune was placed under arrest for obstruction for interfering and lying during the investigation. The juvenile will be charged with two counts of hit and run, one for damaging the street sign and leaving the scene, and the other for backing into the officer’s patrol vehicle and leaving the scene. The juvenile will also be charged with fleeing and eluding a police officer and attempted aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer.
The juvenile had not been located at the time the report was issued on July 20.
Caela Scott, a Clewiston resident, was parked outside a friend’s house at the Ridge as the cars sped around the corner.
“My friend jumped into my car and I pulled into her driveway right as the car and one cop flew by,” Ms. Scott recounted. “There was another cop waiting for them at the end of the street but the driver made a right and got away. It was definitely surreal.”
In a completely unrelated incident, Officer Padro had made contact with Atkins at her residence roughly five minutes before the pursuit began. She came to her front porch and spoke to the officer, and the Nissan Maxima was not in her driveway at the time. She did not mention anything about the vehicle being stolen or missing. From there, Officer Padro traveled toward Lewis Boulevard and observed the Maxima traveling at high rates of speed, which brings us back full circle.