ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Six teenagers who were involved in the crash of a stolen vehicle that killed three of the teens in a violent wreck had been arrested 126 times in recent years, Florida authorities said Monday.
Bob Gualtieri, the sheriff of Pinellas County on Florida’s Gulf Coast, spoke soberly about the problem of juvenile car theft during a news conference.
“These kids couldn’t have cared less about their crimes,” he said. “When there’s no consequence and no fear of consequence, you end up with kids who get arrested 126 times.”
One of the teens was released from juvenile jail on Aug. 2, he said. Another was released July 31.
The teens involved are between the ages of 14 and 18. The surviving boys told officials that they had stolen the cars and were out early Sunday morning to burglarize cars in a suburb northwest of Tampa.
Gualtieri said a Ford Explorer and a Chrysler Sebring were stolen from a Clearwater car dealer Thursday. Both vehicles were spotted by deputies early Sunday morning. Deputies tried to apprehend the drivers of the cars, but didn’t pursue them. The sheriff’s office’s pursuit policy generally does not allow deputies to chase stolen cars.
At one point, they set up a perimeter to try to catch the teens, but a deputy spotted the vehicles outside of the perimeter.
Soon after, the sheriff said, the cars were in a “cat and mouse” game with each other, accelerating and slowing down. Gualtieri said that the cars hit speeds 100 mph or more.
The deputy that spotted them did not initiate a high-speed chase, but the Explorer continued at speeds of around 120 mph when it hit another vehicle, caught fire and went airborne. The Explorer also hit a billboard pole.
The driver hit by the Explorer suffered minor injuries, the sheriff said.
Officers found the Chrysler Sebring and arrested the two in that car; one is 16 and the other 18. Those two, along with the surviving teen in the SUV — who is in stable condition in a hospital — have been charged with grand theft auto. One is 16 and has been ordered held at the juvenile jail, the other, 18-year-old Kamal Campbell, was ordered held on $25,000 bail. It’s unclear if he has retained an attorney.
Gualtieri said detectives and prosecutors are looking into whether they can charge the three with first degree murder under the state’s felony murder rule that if a person directly contributes to the death of a victim while committing a felony, then the person will be charged with murder in the first degree.
Gualtieri said the teens involved were being monitored under a program for repeat offenders. Two of the boys are brothers.
In 2015, police in Pinellas made 499 felony arrests for juvenile auto theft, more than any other county in Florida going back eight years, and more than the most populous counties in America, including Los Angeles. The Tampa Bay Times did an investigation into teen car thefts in April of 2017; the paper found that every four days, a teen crashes a stolen car in Pinellas County. It also found that in nearly every other county in Florida, most people arrested for auto theft are adults. But in Pinellas County, 62 percent are younger than 18 — the largest rate of juveniles arrested for grand theft auto of any sizable Florida county for at least a decade.