SPRING HILL, Fla. (WFLA) – Investigators say the suspects in a recent Tampa Bay area smash-and-grab theft aren’t even old enough to buy cigarettes. Officials said these suspects are coming from Orlando to target Tampa Bay area locations.
“This just wasn’t a couple kids after a high school prom that got into a little bit of trouble,” Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis told News Channel 8. “A lot of it is coming out of the Orange County/metro Orlando area … I will tell you that many of them are very young. It’s not unusual for all or most of them to be juveniles. These are true criminals. They’re thugs. It’s well thought out.”
The latest case occurred Wednesday morning at the Target store at 4401 Commercial Way in Spring Hill.
Investigators say a witness spotted four black men inside the store taking items and putting them into an SUV parked in front of the store. Minutes after the call, deputies arrived on scene but the suspects had taken off.
Law enforcement officers later spotted the vehicle. The suspects refused to stop, leading to a wild chase.
Authorities tried to stop the vehicle with stop sticks twice, but were unsuccessful. In one case, the driver steered toward a deputy who had to jump out of the way. The driver wound up near an apartment complex in the Pine Hills section of Orlando. All four suspects jumped out of the vehicle and ran away.
Orange County deputies and Orlando police searched the area and, as of last check, they are still searching for the four suspects.
Investigators say another suspected case took place at the Tampa Arms Company store in late November when thieves used their SUV as a battering ram and drove right into the store. As many as a dozen people got out of the SUV and stole at least 40 firearms in less than two minutes.
Two weeks later, deputies found one of the guns in the car of a suspected murderer. He lives just outside of Orlando.
“To come all the way over here, it seems like a lot of trouble,” Ed Bennett of Weeki Wachee said. “They should be in school obviously if they’re under 18. Why aren’t they? Where are the parents?”