Tamara Lush February 28, 2001, Wednesday Copyright 2001 Times Publishing Company St. Petersburg Times February 28, 2001, Wednesday
(NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla.) -- Zack Horl went to the strip joint to pick up his friend, and all hell broke loose.
"I turned my head and, whoa, I saw a cop flying in," said Horl. "And I saw a man in the headlights, running from the cop. This guy was hauling butt."
That's how Horl, a 24-year-old painter, came to be in the middle of a wild chase that had started about 10 minutes and 3 miles earlier, at 2 a.m. Tuesday.
The guy running from police headed straight for Horl, who was sitting in a rented Hyundai Elantra in the parking lot of Club 54.
"Get over, get over," the man said.
Horl said the guy had a "wild look" in his eyes. "It looked like he was on a mission," said Horl. "As he got in the car, I got out."
Horl watched as the the man rammed his car into police cruisers, hitting an officer who was standing in the parking lot. He also saw officers shoot at the man, who sped out of the parking lot.
The suspect, Larry Cook, is a 31-year-old Palm Harbor man with a long criminal record who was wanted on a warrant for violating probation. New Port Richey Police and Pasco Sheriff's Office deputies finally stopped Cook by shooting and wounding him in the middle of U.S. 19.
As Cook recovered at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg Tuesday afternoon, four agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement were called to Pasco County to investigate.
Eight officers - four from New Port Richey and four from the Sheriff's Office - had fired their weapons at three different locations during the 15-minute chase. It is unclear how many shots were fired.
All have been placed on administrative leave until the FDLE finishes its investigation.
The four New Port Richey officers comprise about a third of the police department's entire force, said Capt. Darryl Garman.
"I'm thankful that none of our people were hurt," said Garman. "I'm also thankful that no innocent bystanders were hurt. This guy obviously didn't want to be taken into custody."
New Port Richey officers were looking for Cook early Tuesday because he was wanted in connection with an altercation, Garman said. When officers saw Cook's vehicle on Main Street, they followed him. Two sheriff's deputies - a corporal and his trainee - saw the New Port Richey officers driving fast, and joined in.
Officers stopped Cook at the intersection of Congress Street and Nebraska Avenue about 2 a.m.
Garman said Cook rammed one New Port Richey cruiser twice, hit a telephone pole and tried to run an officer over.
The New Port Richey officers fired their first shots at Cook, said Garman. Cook got back in the car, and drove off. Cook had a passenger in the car, a man wanted on a Georgia warrant, said Garman.
The officers and deputies chased Cook down Grand Boulevard, and Cook crashed his car near Grand and State Road 54. Officers arrested the passenger.
Cook got out of the vehicle and ran toward Club 54.
That's when he tried to carjack Horl, authorities said, and rammed the cruisers. This time, New Port Richey officers and sheriff's deputies fired their weapons.
Authorities said Cook rammed at least two cruisers - one was hit so hard that it was pushed into the side of the club. He also tried to run two deputies over, said authorities, and New Port Richey Officer Joe Nohejl was slightly injured by Cook's car.
Cook drove out of the club parking lot, toward U.S. 19. More officers joined in the chase, and Cook ran the stop sign at Bartelt Road and U.S. 19., glancing off a Honda Accord that was headed north. The driver of the Honda received minor injuries.
Cook crashed the car into a chain link fence and concrete pile at a paving company on U.S. 19, and officers surrounded the car.
Still, Cook wouldn't stop. Authorities said he tried to run several officers over and hit three cruisers. The officers responded with shots.
Cook was hit in the shoulder, hand and leg. A helicopter flew him to the hospital, where he was listed in fair condition.
According to the FDLE, Cook, who gave his address as 4880 Glenbrook Drive in Palm Harbor, has an arrest record that dates back to 1998. He has been arrested on charges ranging from possession of crack cocaine, driving without a license, leaving the scene of a crash and resisting an officer.
He is currently on probation on cocaine possession charges in of Pasco County, according to the Department of Corrections, and had violated his probation.
As for the officers, it is unknown when they will return to work.
None of the New Port Richey officers - Nohejl, Jeff Harrington, Matt Berry or Sgt. Scott Baker - have ever been involved in a "use of force" incident, said Garman.
The backgrounds of the four sheriff's deputies - Cpl. Robert Haugh, Deputy Steve Salagras, Deputy Andrew Izrailov or Deputy Michael Toczylowski Jr. - were not available Tuesday, said sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll.
Both agencies have detailed procedures when an officer fires his weapon. In both, an officer is placed on administrative leave with pay until the investigation is complete, and is required to undergo counseling.
Cook has been charged with two counts of aggravated assault and three counts of felony criminal mischief. Authorities say other charges are pending.