The armed carjacking suspect appears to have made one good decision amid a long series of bad ones today, among them crossing paths with Sheriff Rick Staly: when the man jumped out of his Lexus in an attempt to evade cops one last time, he left his rifle with an extended magazine in his car. Moments later when Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies closed in, they Tased him, took him down and arrested him. Had he been armed, the outcome might have been different.
“Fortunately he did not take the weapon with him when he fled,” Staly, who was coming around a corner when the deputies Tased the man, said. “I hate to speculate because we do a good job with de-escalation, but our concern had that occurred, he’s in a heavily congested area with a lot of people.” By then the man was in the parking lot of Rooms To Go near Cracker Barrel, the area around him teeming with foot and car traffic at high noon, with the lunch crowd in the restaurant. “So we would have had to use the force necessary to protect the community, whatever that would be.” As it turned out, since his hands appeared free of weapons to the deputies, tasing him proved sufficient to stop him.
Around 2:45 p.m., law enforcement in Daytona Beach was still trying to establish the suspect’s identity. He had told arresting deputies that his name was Cozy Crush Jones, a 27-year-old Palm Coast resident well known to local law enforcement because of Jones’s many previous arrests, one of them for fleeing and eluding. But Jones, in fact, was the man’s victim today: he had pointed his rifle at him and ordered him out of the car when he’d been pulled over by a Flagler County Sheriff’s Deputy on State Road 100.
By Tuesday, the man was identified as Serome Bell, 30, of 56 Prattwood Lane in Palm Coast. He is convicted felon who served a brief stint in state prison from the end of 2015 to the beginning of 2017 on a drug-trafficking charge.
The incident began before noon in Flagler County when Flagler County Sheriff’s Brandon Fiveash, who was on motorcycle traffic patrol, clocked Bell driving 95 in a 60 on West 100 in Bunnell.
As Fiveash was getting off his motorcycle, a passenger in the car jumped out–based on preliminary information Staly relayed–“and the driver takes off. The passenger tells deputy Fiveash that the guy pointed a rifle at him and told him to get out of the car.” The driver would later claim to be Jones. It’s not yet known who owns the vehicle. Deputies suspect the vehicle was stolen.
“The driver then flees, deputies start to pursue him, they know they have a forcible felony, so it’s authorized under our policy,” Staly said. The sheriff has instituted stricter pursuit policies out of concern for bystanders’ safety. In today’s case, the pursuit would not be abandoned. “The guy goes into the various streets of South Bunnell, trying to elude our deputies,” and may face a charge of hit-and run in the city. The Bunnell Police Department is working that case.
“He comes back out on US 1 southbound,” Staly said, “and I happened to be going northbound on US 1 from the county line. Chief [Mark] Strobridge is with me, the chief of staff. So we come up to Belle Terre, he’s coming southbound, I get out stop sticks and was going to throw them in front of the car but it could not be done safely. There were too many cars around. So then I joined the pursuit at that point, going south on US1, then to southbound 95, where he got off on LPGA Boulevard and went eastbound to Williamson, and then south on Williamson. During this time we had about probably five or six of our cars and I think a Bunnell car involved.” Deputies called on Flagler County Fire Flight, the emergency helicopter, to assist.
Before long Volusia County Sheriff’s deputies, Ormond Beach Police and Daytona Beach police were involved. “As we’re going southbound on Williamson, Daytona is trying to set up stop sticks. While they weren’t able to do that, they did a phenomenal job blocking an intersection so this fleeing driver couldn’t injure anyone.” Daytona police blocked the very large intersection at Williamson and International Speedway Boulevard.
Bell then went Eastbound on International Speedway and pulled into the parking lot of Cracker Barrel. “It looked to us he was trying to find his way out,” Staly said. “He ended up in the parking lot of Rooms To Go, where he hit two parked cars and tried to flee on foot right into my direction. But two deputies were able to tase him and take him to the ground. I played really a bit part, a minor part at that time, because they were on top of him at that time.”
A parent who was in Daytona Beach helping his son move out of a dorm at Embry-Riddle University wrote of his son’s and wife’s reaction at what they witnessed: “They were shocked to see Staly and Undersheriff with guns drawn after they cornered [the] vehicle in Cracker Barrel, along with one of our Mustang patrol cars.”
Deputies recovered a bag Bell threw out of the car during the chase. The bag contained amounts of heroin and cocaine large enough to draw trafficking charges. He also faces charges of armed carjacking, aggravated assault, aggravated fleeing and eluding. It isn’t clear yet why he pointed the rifle at Jones. He was still in Daytona Beach at mid-afternoon.
Staly explained how Flagler deputies may continue a chase into another jurisdiction: “A deputy sheriff can pursue someone anywhere in the state of Florida as long as it started in Flagler County, so we still have our law enforcement authority. The difference is, they have to initially be booked into the Volusia County jail on our charges and then they can be transferred into Flagler. It’s basically a fresh-pursuit doctrine, it’s an active pursuit, in other words they can’t just change county lines and you no longer can pursue them.”