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Man in Rental Car Leads Police on Chase, Says He was Late for Flight

A driver who led police on a 20-mile, high-speed chase through the Keys last week, thought he gave officers a good reason for speeding: He was late for a flight that was leaving from Miami International Airport.

After his arrest, and just before he was heading to jail, the driver also told sheriff’s deputies that he was, or once was, positive for COVID-19.

Key West police say that 35-year-old Vitallii Kovalev, of New York and previously of Germany, was driving recklessly in the downtown area on Flagler Avenue around 11:10 a.m. last Tuesday. When they attempted to stop the 2020 white Ford Mustang, the driver sped off.

Kovalev left Key West and headed northbound on U.S. 1, reaching speeds of 86 mph as he drove past Stock Island, Boca Chica, Rockland, Big Coppitt and Shark Keys. The Florida Highway Patrol and the U.S. Border Patrol teamed up the pursuit.

Courtesy: Monroe County Sheriff’s Office/Facebook

Deputies used spike sticks at Mile Marker 21, causing the car’s rear and front tire to come off. Kovalev eventually lost control of the vehicle on a bridge.

Dashcam video taken from a Monroe County Sheriff’s deputy’s cruiser shows a deputy, with his weapon drawn, ordering the driver out of the car and telling him to “show his hands.”

Kovalev was taken into custody and charged with fleeing and eluding, obstructing justice and reckless driving.

He was then taken to the hospital after telling deputies about his coronavirus diagnosis. Monroe County Sheriff’s said once he was cleared at the hospital, he would be detained in one of the jail’s negative pressure cells, away from the general jail population.

All detainees who enter the jail are screened for COVID-19 prior to going into the facility, according to the sheriff’s office. All detainees, deputies and civilian employees are also required to wear masks in the facility.