Flagler County Sheriff’s Cmdr. Chris Sepe was in an unmarked agency car Tuesday afternoon, about the time when school buses were making their afternoon runs and letting out students at innumerable stops across town, when a black four-door sedan almost struck his car head-on, blew through a stop sign at Pine Haven Drive, then sped off at about 50 mph on Pine Haven. Children who’d just been let off a bus were walking along the street.
A chase was on. By the time it was over, numerous marked and unmarked sheriff’s units had joined the chase, as had a K-9 unit and Flagler County Fire Flight, the emergency helicopter, which captured the sedan swerving around more children being let off a bus. There were three such instances in all, according to the suspect’s arrest report. There was one crash with another car, and one other near-crash with an unmarked sheriff’s unit. It ended with a foot search in the woods in the W Section.
Elijah DeSimone, a 16-year-old Flagler County school student who’d been at the wheel of a rental Toyota Camry with Texas license plate (the vehicle owner is based in Tulsa, Okla.), was charged with aggravated fleeing and eluding, a felony, as well as several misdemeanor charges, judging from the censored portions of his arrest report. (The sheriff’s office is authorized to release felony but not misdemeanor charges when the case involves a juvenile.)
Immediately after Sepe saw DeSimone nearly crash into his car in front of 27 Pine Hurst Lane, Sepe activated his emergency lights and siren and followed the Toyota, which had turned onto Pine Grove Drive, then Pine Haven Drive, making a U-turn and returning to Pine Grove before turning onto Belle Terre Parkway, going south. By then another deputy got behind the Toyota, attempting to conduct a traffic stop. The Toyota wouldn’t halt.
The Toyota made a right turn onto Royal Palms Parkway, swerving around and in front of another car, and doing so crashing into that civilian’s vehicle. The crash caused “substantial injuries” to the driver of the car that wasn’t involved in the pursuit. She was taken to Florida Hospital Flagler, according to the arrest report. A crash report identified that driver as Teresa Sweatt, 56, an R-Section resident whose 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee sustained $1,500 in damages. The car owner, Lynetta Blackman, 36, was her passenger. She did not sustain any visible injuries, according to the crash report.
The Toyota kept fleeing on Royal Palms as additional units joined the chase. The Toyota turned onto Rickenbacker Drive, speeding through the residential neighborhood and endangering pedestrians and other vehicles in the area, according to a deputy’s report. “At this time,” the report continued, “Corporal [Jon] Dopp observed the black sedan drive around a school bus stopped at the intersection of Round Tree Dr. and Ravenood Dr.,” as the school bus had its stop signs and yellow lights activated: it was unloading children.
The pursuit was ended at that point so as not to further endanger others as the Toyota was seen heading north on Ravenwood Drive. But the car was spotted again on Wheeling Lane, where several unmarked patrol cars converged, observing the Toyota continuing its reckless patterns. Flagler County Fire Flight went airborne over the neighborhood and filmed the vehicle passing another school bus that was unloading children on Westhampton Drive. Deputies went to that area and found the Toyota stopped at Wellwood Lane and Wellhaven Lane. But it was empty.
A perimeter was established in the neighborhood and a K-9 unit brought in. They located the teen just inside the woods. Sepe identified him as the individual he’d seen in the P Section. A school database identified him as Elijah DeSimone. He had an iPhone and $422 on him, and was taken to Florida Hospital Flagler. He was cleared from the hospital, booked at the Flagler County jail, then sent to the juvenile jail in Daytona Beach.
“We’re not 100 percent certain why he did what he did, however we believe it may be related to thrill-seeking,” a sheriff’s spokesman said today.