Pinellas Co. sheriff frustrated by youth auto theft epidemic after ‘3 young lives needlessly lost’

Photo released by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri took aim at the juvenile justice system on Monday, one day after a violent crash that killed three teenage boys he’s described as “prolific offenders.”

Early Sunday morning, a stolen Ford Explorer crashed near the intersection of US Highway 19 and Tampa Road.

The driver, 16-year-old Keontae Brown, and two of his passengers, 14-year-old Jimmie Goshey and 16-year-old Dejarae Thomas, were all pronounced dead at the scene. Deputies say 14-year-old Keondrae Brown was injured after being ejected through the front windshield from where he was sitting in the backseat.

Two other teenagers who were driving a stolen Chrysler Sebring have been charged with one count of grand theft auto and one count of resisting arrest without violence. The sheriff’s office has identified them as 18-year-old Kamal Campbell and 16-year-old Deyon Kaigler.

Both the Explorer and the Sebring were stolen from a car lot in Clearwater last week.

Deputies saw the Explorer around 1 a.m. on Sunday and tried to stop it when they realized it was stolen. When the car fled the scene, deputies did not pursue it.

All six teens later met up at Campbell’s home, smoked marijuana and then left in stolen cars. At 2:19 a.m. they were seen at a Wawa in Clearwater putting gas in the cars.

Gualtieri says the group then went to Safety Harbor to try and commit car burglaries, then went to Eastlake Woodlands around 4 a.m. to try to commit more. Deputies put the community in lockdown and used a helicopter to try and find the teens, but were not successful.

Both the Sebring and the Explorer were seen again around 4:30 a.m. playing a “cat and mouse” game where one car speeds up and the other slows down. The surviving passenger from the Explorer says at times, the car he was in went between 120 and 130 mph.

Right before the crash, deputies say the driver of the Explorer turned all of the lights off so his car was blacked out. He then drove through a red light going faster than 100 mph, according to the sheriff.

That’s when he hit Ricky Melendez, who says he was on his way to work at the time.

The Explorer hit several cars at a dealership before going airborne and hitting a billboard pole at 10 feet in the air. The car then hit several other vehicles before bursting into flames.

Gualtieri says he’s frustrated that three young lives were needlessly lost due to an epidemic that’s been plaguing the county.

According to the sheriff, all six teenagers have been arrested a total of 126 times. Nineteen of the arrests were for grand theft and 39 were for violating probation.

“They don’t care because it doesn’t matter to them,” Gualtieri said.

He says the juvenile justice system isn’t working because there are not enough consequences and there is no fear of consequences.

“It’s a game to them, but it’s a deadly game,” he said.

The sheriff’s office says despite their efforts, auto thefts are up in 2017. So far, there have been 1,124.

Gualtieri says his office has tried everything, including providing 20-hour supervision for at least 200 kids in the county and paying for electronic monitoring. They have also added home case managers to try and engage families.

During the press conference, Sheriff Gualtieri said law enforcement and arrests cannot fix this, and begged caregivers and parents to step up and help.

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