Tampa, FL -- Tampa police say one of their veteran DUI officers was properly following policies and procedures early Tuesday morning when he allowed a drunken driving suspect to flee from the scene without pursuit.
Minutes later, the driver crashed his car into the Tampa Baptist Manor high-rise apartment building in Hyde Park.
It was a strange scene, say witnesses, who described the male driver, Rico Jones, 28, of Clearwater, as wearing a bra and women's panties.
Jones was only slightly hurt, but the case has some residents of the apartment building debating the pros and cons of the police department's no-chase policy when it comes to misdemeanors including suspected DUI drivers.
"I kept thinking earthquake, because the building shook, said resident Elaine May.
The red Ford Mustang Jones was driving plowed through a wall eight floors below her window just before 3 a.m.
The accident sparked a small fire, she says, "But there was smoke all over from the car burning up into the building."
Still, with no one seriously injured, including Jones, attention quickly shifted to what happened in the minutes leading up to the accident.
"They were following him, correct?" asked resident Lee Sewell,
Tampa police say yes -- one of its officers with specialized DUI training did try to pull over Jones after seeing his car driving the wrong way down a one-way street just before the wreck.
But Jones, they say, sped off when the officer turned on his lights and siren.
The officer, following department policy, let Jones go, and alerted other units.
It was too risky to chase after him, say police.
"You have someone driving drunk, erratically, then you have a police officer behind them at high speeds, it's a recipe for disaster," said TPD spokesperson Andrea Davis.
That had residents Tuesday asking a lot of "what ifs."
-- What if the damage had been worse? What if the smoke and fire had spread?
"Oh yeah, it could have been quite serious," said resident Freddy Blood.
-- Would residents then have been more critical of TPD's no-chase policy?
"Of course I would have," admitted one woman who declined to giver her name.
"Yeah – where were you. Why didn't you stop him?" May admitted she'd be asking.
"You can 'what if' all day long," said Davis, "We do that all day long in law enforcement and we adjust our policies."
But in this case, Tampa police say they see no reason to review their policy when it comes to DUI suspects.
Jones, meanwhile, faces charges of driving under the influence with property damage, leaving the scene of a crash with property damage, fleeing and attempting to elude a police officer, driving under the influence, and driving while a license is canceled, suspended or revoked.