Man in rental car leads police on wild chase, says he was late for Miami airport flight

Just before heading into jail, he tells deputies he was, or once was, positive for COVID-19

KEY WEST, Fla. – A driver who led police on a 20-mile, high-speed chase through the Florida Keys told officers he had a good reason for speeding: He was late for a flight leaving out of Miami International Airport.

After his arrest, and right before he was going into jail, the driver told sheriff’s deputies something else: That he was, or once was, positive for COVID-19.

Key West police said Vitallii Kovalev, 35, of New York and formerly of Germany, was driving recklessly in the downtown area on Flagler Avenue around 11:10 a.m. Tuesday. When they attempted to stop the 2020 white Ford Mustang, the driver took off.

Kovalev left Key West 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 joined the pursuit. The rented Mustang passed vehicles, weaving from lane to lane and, at one point, illegally passed a marked Monroe County Sheriff’s Office SUV.

Deputies used spike sticks at Mile Marker 21. The spikes caused the car’s rear and front tire to come off. Kovalev began losing control of the car as he passed Spanish Main Drive on Cudjoe Key before finally losing control near the Kemp Channel bridge.

Dashcam video 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 after crashing on the bridge. He told deputies he was late for a flight at the Miami International Airport.

He was charged with fleeing and eluding, obstructing justice and reckless driving.

Kovalev was taken to the hospital after telling deputies about his COVID-19 condition. 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 apart from the general jail population.

All detainees entering the jail are screened for COVID-19 prior to entering the facility, according to the sheriff’s office. All detainees as well as deputies and civilian employees are required to wear masks in the facility.

About the Author:

Michelle F. Solomon is the podcast producer/reporter/host of Local 10's original, true-crime podcast The Florida Files and a digital journalist for Local