Five-day joyride crashes out

THE hunt began on Saturday.

Police received calls about a red Mitsubishi Lancer seen driving erratically on the West Tamar Highway at Legana.

That was 8am. 

Soon the calls had shifted upriver.

A red Lancer had been seen doing doughnuts at Legana, and was reported to have damaged property.

Police laid spikes on the road and attempted to intercept the car, but it didn't work.

The driver sped up and police officers dropped back, unwilling to risk a high-speed pursuit.

The search crossed districts on Sunday, when North-West police and firefighters were called to extinguish a Holden SSV Commodore ute that was on fire in Nyora Court, Miandetta.

The ute had been stolen from Legana on Saturday morning, abandoned, and deliberately set alight.

It was a 2009 model, worth about $30,000 and uninsured. 

Too sophisticated to fall victim to a coathanger through the window, it had been stolen after the keys were nabbed from a bench-top inside the owner's home.

By Tuesday police needed to check the paperwork to see how many different apparently stolen cars they had followed. The suspect remained the same.

Police eventually caught up with a 23-year-old Launceston man in Charles Street, Launceston, yesterday.

He had just crashed a car - another Holden Commodore ute, this one reportedly stolen from a building site at Newstead on Tuesday from an owner who is really wishing he didn't leave the keys in the ignition.

Acting Inspector Andrew Keane said the man was spotted on Lilydale Road by a patrol car that was out searching for him.

Police said they tried to intercept him, but he slipped away, heading down Invermay Road towards the city.

The police followed at a safe distance. They were determined to bring him in.

The police helicopter was on stand-by and, in an extraordinary measure, police had been authorised to ``wall him in'' - block his car with theirs at low speeds and try to force him to stop.

At high speeds they could do nothing, and he apparently knew it. One police officer said the man had been pulling up beside police officers and taunting them.

Motor vehicle pursuits are only allowed under Tasmania Police policy in emergencies involving obvious and immediate danger to human life or the prevention of serious crimes. 

``The principles behind the pursuit policy are that the safety of the public, police and the occupants of the vehicle being pursued is paramount and must be the overriding consideration in the management of any pursuit,'' Assistant Commissioner Phil Wilkinson said.

Acting Inspector Keane said the man had previously evaded police cordons and road spikes, and ``just basically refuses to stop for police''.

``In nearly all cases we have decided that the risk to the public for us deciding to chase him wasn't warranted,'' he said. ``We have thought that at those speeds it wasn't worth following him.''

So when the patrol car radioed in and said it was following the suspect at a slow speed through heavy school-time traffic on a road that passed within a block of the Launceston police station, dozens of officers filed out.

``Fortunately he was driving quite close to police headquarters, so we were able to get some spikes out fairly quickly,'' Acting Inspector Keane said. Seven police cars and police from both uniform division and CIB got into position.

``Once he decided to come so close to the station a large number of our people who were there doing office duties also responded,'' Acting Inspector Keane said.

Police said the ute ran over a set of spikes laid near the intersection of Charles and William streets. The driver tried to evade police again, lost control and crashed into the corner of the C. H. Smith Building.

He fled but was arrested by police on the grounds of the abandoned building and taken to the Launceston General Hospital to be treated for minor cuts and abrasions.

Detective Inspector Scott Flude said the man was a suspect in about 30 driving and criminal offences allegedly committed in the North and North-West in the past week, including motor vehicle stealing, evading police and robbery. He is expected to be charged today.

Firefighters inspect the stolen Holden Commodore ute that was crashed into the corner of the C. H. Smith Building in Launceston yesterday.  Picture: PHILLIP BIGGS

Firefighters inspect the stolen Holden Commodore ute that was crashed into the corner of the C. H. Smith Building in Launceston yesterday. Picture: PHILLIP BIGGS