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Suspect crashes while fleeing from police
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Photo courtesy of CLEARWATER POLICE
Clearwater firefighters inspect the damage, after Willie D. Collins tried to elude police and crashed his Dodge pickup truck into a power utility pole, flipping the vehicle into a backyard.
LARGO – Police from Largo and Clearwater coordinated to track down and arrest a man Jan. 8 suspected of four armed robberies.

Willie D. Collins, 48, of Clearwater, continued to fight officers even after he crashed his vehicle that afternoon, Largo police reported. Collins was a suspect in two armed robberies in Clearwater on Jan. 5 and 7 before Largo police joined the search.

In the Jan. 5 robbery, a suspect brandished a large machete at a Dollar General at 1600 N. Myrtle Ave. On Jan. 7, he pulled out a knife at the Family Dollar at 1279 S. Missouri Ave. and lunged at the clerk, according to Clearwater police.

Largo patrol received a call on Jan. 8 that a man had brandished a large kitchen knife at the CVS at 2390 Belcher Road. He lunged at the clerk before reaching into the drawer and grabbing money, police said.

The suspect was seen running to and leaving in a maroon Dodge pickup truck. His description matched that of the suspect in Clearwater’s two cases.

The Clearwater Police Department had a “solid tip/lead” from Collins’ wife, who said she thought her husband was the suspect in their robberies, Largo Detective Jill Freire wrote in a citywide email. Further, the wife said her husband had mentioned committed “suicide by cop,” Freire explained.

The special operations units from both departments got involved Jan. 8. That afternoon, Clearwater detectives “pinged” Collins’ cellphone, which determined that he was in Largo. As detectives in Largo were alerted to his general location, another call for an armed robbery at the Largo Lowes, 11101 Ulmerton Road, came in. A suspect there robbed a clerk in the garden center at knifepoint before grabbing money and running back to his vehicle.

Detectives began searching the area for the Dodge pickup truck identified in the former robberies. An undercover Clearwater detective found the truck and began following it, alerting both agencies to Collins’ location.

The suspect spotted the police cars headed toward him and sped away as Clearwater officers tried to pull him over. He headed east on Palmetto Street, losing control of the truck east of Highland Avenue. The truck crashed into a power utility pole, flipped and landed in the backyard of a residence, destroying part of a fence.

He continued to fight officers trying to arrest him, Largo police reported. He was taken to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg for injuries suffered in the crash. A passenger who was with him in the truck was not injured.

Clearwater police found the machete, smaller knife and both shirts he wore in the Clearwater robberies in his truck. Clearwater police had matched a shirt worn by the suspect in the Jan. 7 robbery with one Collins was seen wearing in a photo he had posted on Facebook.

Collins is charged with four counts of robbery with a deadly weapon as well as aggravated fleeing and eluding law enforcement, according to Pinellas County Jail records. Largo also charged him with burglary of an unoccupied structure and fraudulent use of a credit card.
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