James Perez had no idea it was a former Gators basketball player who was arrested for stealing a $3 taco from his downtown food stand early Friday morning.
Then the forwarded messages came pouring in.
When Perez took a closer look at his phone later in the day, each new text or email from one of his friends led to a story saying the 5-foot-8, 178-pound man he chased across three blocks was Erving Walker, UF’s all-time leader in assists and the lone senior on this year’s team.
Walker was arrested by Gainesville Police Department officers at 1 a.m. Friday and charged with petit theft and resisting an officer without violence, both misdemeanors. He was not jailed and is scheduled to appear in court on April 19 at 9 a.m.
“I don’t follow sports,” Perez said. “He was just some dude that stole who was very fast.”
According to Perez, Walker stopped at the Tacos Locos food stand across from Rockey’s Piano Bar on South Main Street just before 1 a.m. and placed an order.
As Perez, 26, prepared to receive payment like he has every day since setting up his stand last June, his co-worker Matt Hruska, also 26, quickly prepared a taco and gave it to Walker.
“He ordered a $3 sausage taco and then he was like, ‘Do ya’ll take cards?’” Perez said.
But before either Perez or Hruska could reply, Walker allegedly took off with the taco and sprinted across Main Street toward Southwest First Avenue.
“So I looked at Matt and said, ‘Dang, he just stole that. Should I chase him?’ and he was like, ‘Yeah,’” Perez said.
Perez said two other tall men accompanied Walker to the stand, but neither tried to stop what was happening and began to slowly walk behind him.
While Hruska called the police, Perez began to chase Walker down the street. Perez said the two men called out, “He’s coming!” when he began to catch up to Walker.
However, when Walker realized he was being followed he tripped and fell, dropping the taco, before heading into a parking lot next to Loosey’s bar at the corner of Southwest First Avenue and Southwest Second Street.
“Then he ran over there and stopped for a second and he was like, ‘Don’t come at me, man,’” Perez said. “And I was like, ‘I’m not coming at you, I’m going to get a cop and you’re going to jail.’”
Perez said he flagged down a police officer in a patrol car before continuing to run after Walker. When Walker saw Perez talking to police, he ran across West University Avenue and continued north on Northwest First Street, Perez said.
According to the arrest report, GPD officer Visvambhara Nicoloff chased on foot and yelled, “Police. Stop!” at Walker, who looked back before turning around to get back onto West University Avenue.
With the help of several marked police cars, Nicoloff caught up to Walker and arrested him in the 200-block of West University Avenue.
Walker told police he knew he had not paid for the taco when he initially ran off and that he was “just playing around.”
“Then, finally, the cops tackled him and arrested him,” Perez said. “And he looked at me and said, ‘Come on man, for $3?’ — like I screwed him.”
Contact John Boothe at email@example.com.
Florida guard Erving Walker (11) controls the ball while covered by Virginia guard Jontel Evans (1) during the first half of a second-round NCAA college basketball tournament game at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb., Friday, March 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)