OCALA, Florida — An Ocala woman faces criminal charges and the possible loss of her car following a wild police chase.
It began as an attempted traffic stop on Baseline Road, spilled onto nearby residential streets, and led onto a golf course, where befuddled players watched the strange episode unfold. Four players eventually helped the Florida Highway Patrol trooper free his car after it got stuck on the course.
At one point, the pursuing trooper temporarily succeeded in stopping Sanaiya Williams. He pointed his gun and his Taser at her. She got back into her car, drove off, and the chase continued.
This dashcam video screen capture shows Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Mario Rodriguez Gonzalez during a traffic stop of Sanaiya Williams.
Williams, 19, a native of Philadelphia who moved to the Ocala area four years ago, eventually was arrested following the chase, which began about 7:10 p.m. on July 14 on Baseline (also known as State Road 35.)
She is charged with felony fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer/disregard for safety, one misdemeanor count of resisting or obstructing an officer without violence, and multiple traffic violations including improper U-turn and running stop signs, according to court records. The cases are pending.
Meanwhile, in civil court, the FHP is trying to seize Williams’ black 2019 Dodge Charger, arguing that the vehicle should be considered contraband because it was used in the commission of a felony.
Through a public records request, the Ocala Star-Banner obtained a copy of the trooper’s dashcam video. The Star-Banner also reviewed court filings and spoke in person and by email with Williams.
It all started with an attempt at a routine traffic stop
According to Trooper Mario Rodriguez Gonzalez’s arrest affidavit, he was stationed on Baseline Road (SR 35) in his marked FHP unit at about 7:10 p.m. July 14 when he noticed a black Dodge Charger with “very dark window tint” traveling south at a “very high rate of speed.” It was passing other traffic and making a loud exhaust noise.
The trooper estimated the Charger’s speed at 80 mph.
The trooper followed the Charger for a time. It changed lanes and then made a “quick right turn” into a residential area, the affidavit states.
This screen capture from the trooper’s dashcam shows Sanaiya Williams driving her 2019 Dodge Charger on the Baseline Golf Course on July 14.
The trooper saw the Charger “traveling at a high rate of speed” and “nearly strike three pedestrians” in the residential area. The trooper noted that Williams failed to stop for several stop signs, did not signal a turn, and violated other traffic laws.
“(A)t this point I activated the emergency lights and siren” of the marked FHP cruiser, he wrote.
“I don’t believe I was going 80 mph as estimated by the trooper. I knew the trooper was following me but he didn’t put his sirens on until I sped up,” Williams said.
Florida Statute 316.1935 states it is unlawful for a driver to “refuse or fail to stop” or flee when they know a duly authorized member of law enforcement is ordering the driver to stop. The statute also addresses fleeing from a marked vehicle with light and siren, high speed eluding, and disregard for others’ safety.
This screen capture from the trooper’s dashcam shows Sanaiya Williams driving her 2019 Dodge Charger on the Baseline Golf Course on July 14. (Photo courtesy Florida Highway Patrol dashcam)
Why didn’t Williams stop her car?
Williams said she got scared as soon as the trooper put on his emergency equipment.
Williams said she has been stopped for speeding previously but “only got warnings.”
“I never had a speeding ticket or (even) a parking ticket,” she said.
Why did the trooper begin, and continue, a high-speed chase?
Should the trooper have cut off the chase after the speed increased and pedestrians had been put in danger?
FHP officials won’t discuss an ongoing case. The agency’s online policy manual at flsmv.gov, states: “Members shall consider the potential harm to persons and property with allowing the offender to go unapprehended.”
The policy manual lists the seriousness of the original offense and the safety of law enforcement and the public as other factors a trooper should consider when deciding whether to start or continue a pursuit.
The chase headed for, and onto, the Baseline Golf Course
In this case, the high-speed chase continued for several minutes. The trooper tried to stop the Charger as Williams returned to Baseline Road and then back to the residential area. The Charger eventually traveled to the end of Larch Course Run, a dead-end.
Adjacent to the dead end is a dirt path that leads to the Baseline Golf Course. The path was blocked by a chain.
The Charger halted at the chain and the trooper parked behind it, emergency equipment still activated.
Trooper Rodriguez Gonzalez stated in his affidavit that he got out of his vehicle but, because of the heavy window tint, he was “not able to observe anything inside” the Charger.
He drew his FHP-issued Glock .45-caliber handgun and gave several “loud, clear verbal commands” for Williams to get out.
Williams said she “had all her windows rolled down” at least at one point.
Williams exited the Charger and the trooper drew his Taser. Williams got back inside the car, closed the doors and windows, and tried to drive away, but was stuck in dirt, the affidavit says.
Williams said when the trooper drew his Taser she became scared.
I “didn’t want to be Tasered after being told I was going to be Tased” I left the scene, she said.
The trooper gave multiple verbal commands for Williams to exit the car. But she was able to get the Charger moving and headed toward him, he stated.
The trooper said he had to move to avoid being hit by the car. He got back into his vehicle, and Williams drove the Charger through the chain at the entrance to the golf course.
The trooper followed her, and the chain damaged the patrol car’s spotlight and light bar. It also damaged the roof, right rear fender and electronics, the affidavit says.
The trooper stated in his report that the Charger went “many directions” on the golf course with “no regard” for safety or property.
There were players on the course, and they can be seen looking on as Williams drives along.
The trooper attempted to stop the Charger by putting the front of his vehicle against the right rear fender of the Charger, but the maneuver did not work. The FHP vehicle became stuck on the course, and Williams drove off.
Several golfers helped the trooper free his vehicle, as seen on the dashcam video.
Williams was arrested at her home about a mile from the golf course
Although Williams had gotten away, she didn’t stay free for long. During the chase the trooper had recorded her license plate number and identified her as the vehicle’s registered owner.
Williams’ listed address was about a mile from the golf course. The trooper drove there, accompanied by a sergeant, and found the Charger parked there and Williams inside the home.
The Marion County Jail
Williams was arrested at 7:48 p.m. She was booked into the Marion County Jail and released on July 16 after posting a $17,000 bond, according to online jail records.
Williams said she did not “nearly strike” three pedestrians and she questions the extent of damage to the FHP cruiser.
“I don’t agree with (any of) the charges,” she said.
The Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act
Williams also disagrees with the FHP’s efforts to permanently seize her car. The FHP is invoking the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act (Florida Statutes Chapter 932.701) and arguing that, because the vehicle was used in the commission of a felony (fleeing and eluding) it should be considered contraband and be subject to forfeiture. The state still has the car as the case plays out.
“I need the car for work,” said Williams, who gave her occupation as self-employed.
The civil case is pending, and Williams has not entered any court filings yet.