JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A driver accused of leading state troopers on a high-speed chase across the Buckman Bridge just before rush hour Thursday morning will be booked into the Duval County jail after he recovers from injuries sustained when a Florida Highway Patrol unit hit the SUV on Interstate 295 near Blanding Boulevard, causing it to overturn.
Brett Bersani, 52, will face charges of eluding police, reckless driving and armed drug possession.
The Florida Highway Patrol said the chase began at 7:18 a.m. at Old St. Augustine and I-295 when a trooper spotted a reckless driver going north at 100 mph. That trooper tried to get the driver to pull over, but a chase ensued. A second trooper joined the pursuit as they crossed Buckman Bridge heading toward Orange Park.
As the pursuit neared Blanding Boulevard, one trooper performed a PIT maneuver -- a tactic where a pursuing car strikes the fleeing vehicle, usually forcing it to turn sideways abruptly, causing the driver to lose control and stop. In this case, the Cadillac Escalade rolled over -- onto the guardrail, then back into the northbound lane where it came to rest on its roof.
James Bilonick was driving to work when he saw flashing lights in his rearview mirror.
“I thought, ‘Typical someone getting pulled over; nothing new there.’ But then I realized it was a police chase and I pulled out my phone,” Bilonick said. “I got to give FHP (credit). It was a clean and well-done maneuver. I didn’t have to slam my breaks (sic) and everyone around was OK. It was just the flipped car with any damage.”
Michael Bennett was also driving across the bridge and saw the whole thing happen.
“He was literally zigzagging traffic on the bridge because no one was moving. When he blew past me, he rolled his window down, stuck his arm out the window, and shot the peace at me and the other cars he was cutting off,” he said.
News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson, who is a former Jacksonville police officer, said he questions the use of the PIT maneuver.
“Usually that maneuver is done when there is not much traffic in either direction -- the direction where the perpetrator is going and oncoming traffic,” Jefferson said. “Did the risk outweigh everything else? Was it totally necessary to administer a PIT maneuver at that time with that amount of traffic on a busy interstate?”
Bennett said that after the crash, troopers got out of their vehicles with their guns drawn.
“Traffic just stopped and I was sitting there in my mind thinking, ‘This could be very bad,’” he said.
The driver was arrested peacefully.
As for Bennett, he feels lucky he himself is OK, too.
“To survive through that is definitely a blessing. You have to pay attention when you’re driving and that was very dangerous,” he said.
According to the jail booking sheet, Bersani is a salesman from New York, although the SUV he was driving had a temporary Florida license tag.