ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA)- Four teens remain behind bars after they were busted for stealing a van in St. Petersburg Thursday morning.
The van belonged to Bill Zisa, who said he believes he left the vehicle unlocked and the keys under the mat.
“I was surprised it was all teenagers. I was surprised it was more than one,” he said.
The driver is a 15-year-old girl and the other passengers, two girls and a boy, are all 16.
Police pursued them after detectives tell us the driver tried to hit one of the officers on purpose.
“We have a 15 year old girl, who was driving, no driver’s license, driving a stolen van recklessly,” said Yolanda Fernandez, St. Petersburg Police Department Spokeswoman.
They were stopped near 94th Avenue and 1st Street and subsequently arrested.
Pinellas County has been plagued by a teen car theft epidemic that in several cases has turned out to be deadly. Many of the juveniles are repeat offenders.
The Department of Juvenile Justice just approved to change the Detention Risk Assessment Instrument, which hadn’t been updated in almost 30 years:
The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice would like to thank the members of the Detention Risk Assessment Instrument (DRAI) Committee for their deliberate consideration and approval of the new proposed instrument. This new instrument uses the latest data and research in determining the most appropriate youth to detain upon arrest.The Department can now continue the work we have already begun on proposed legislative changes, technical implementation needs and the evaluation of the necessary services for those youth placed on supervised release. We are committed to continuing to work with our community partners to ensure youth receive the appropriate and necessary services and that our communities are kept safe.”
– Secretary Christina K. Daly
Officials said most of the cars stolen by teens were unlocked.
“These kids, when our detectives asked the girls, you know, what can people do to make you stop stealing their cars, they answered well, lock the doors, take the keys,” said Fernandez.
Representative Wengay Newton said there is a law that cites the vehicle owner for not locking their doors, but it’s not being enforced.
Newton proposes if nothing will get people to lock their car doors, then maybe a hike in their insurance premiums will.
He’s been speaking with insurance companies to raising rates for customers who left their vehicles unlocked when their car was stolen.
“If your car meets the criteria, where you left it unlocked and running and someone stole it, a kid or anybody, they want you to be responsible for the first $5,000,” said Newton.
The driver of the stolen van was charged with burglary, fleeing and eluding, grand theft and aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer.
Police said two of the teens have a prior history of auto theft.