Tuesday, August 21, 2018
Public safety

What do kids need to stay away from deadly auto theft epidemic?

ST. PETERSBURG — More than a dozen black teenagers told U.S. Congressman Charlie Crist on Wednesday that children need stronger mentors and youth programs to steer clear of the auto theft epidemic plaguing Pinellas County.

"I don't want to sit in a room with someone who's never been in my situation, or is scared to be in my neighborhood," said Angelique Evans, 15. "We need more role models. We need more people who are willing."

HOT WHEELS:Read the revealing series on juvenile car theft in Pinellas

The 14 local youths, who ranged from a fifth-grade student drinking apple juice to a junior college freshman, were invited by Crist to a community roundtable at St. Petersburg College's Midtown campus.

The congressman hoped to learn new ways to reach St. Pete youth who are turning to crime and fueling the county's deadly trend of kids stealing cars. Earlier this month, three boys from Clearwater died when the stolen Ford Explorer they were driving crashed. Last year, three St. Pete girls drowned when the stolen Honda Accord they were driving plunged into a pond.

The problem was the subject of "Hot Wheels," a recent Tampa Bay Times series that found teenagers behind the wheel of stolen cars crashed every four days.

WRONG WAY:His sister died stealing cars. Why didn't the No. 1 car thief stop?

In 2015, more juveniles were arrested for grand theft auto in Pinellas County than anywhere else in Florida and most places nationwide, including Los Angeles and Baltimore.

The teens at the table with Crist were not these car thieves — but Junior ROTC members, club presidents and magnet students who advised the congressman on what their peers need to help them stop making bad, even deadly, choices.

Deterryon Anderson, a St. Petersburg High School student, said he was friends with Keontae Brown and "close friends" with Dejarae Thomas, two of the boys who died when the speeding Ford Explorer crashed Aug. 6.

TIMELINE:Three boys died in a stolen vehicle: Here's how it unfolded (w/video)

"I felt like something could have been done to prevent that," said Deterryon, who played football with Dejarae when they were younger. "I wish he could have taken a different route."

He credited the school's athletics teams with keeping him on track, and his coaches for serving as role models.

But not everyone has an activity they're engaged with, the teens said, just like many don't have a strong father figure.

"There are programs out there for the good kids with high GPAs and who want to go to college," said Shenya Ruth, 16. But when it comes to teenagers who are not already on the right track, she said, "people are scared in a sense to work with those kids."

Several programs in St. Petersburg do attempt to attract young African-Americans, including "Men in the Making" and "Cohort of Champions," run by local pastors and the city. But getting the kids who could benefit the most from these groups in the room is a challenge, said Angelique.

"These programs that are out there, they're not being advertised in a way that kids are going to want to enjoy them," said the sophomore at Northeast High School.

Crist said he is continuing to look at federal grants and other funding opportunities for local activities.

"Having good programs available to our young people is critical," Crist said afterward, "so we will pursue that with a vengeance."

The most recent story in the Times series focused on Isaiah Battle, a 16-year-old St. Petersburg car thief and the brother of Dominique Battle, one of the girls who died in the pond. Wednesday would have been her 18th birthday. The story detailed Isaiah's effort to stay out of cars, and how he eventually turned back to crime after being unable to find a job.

Crist said the community needs to push businesses to offer jobs to teens — even those with criminal records. "We can encourage companies to help them out," he said.

The roundtable was briefly delayed by supporters of the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement, who blame city leaders and the police for the death of Dominique and her friends. They shouted that Crist was manipulating the kids for a press stunt.

The children pushed back against claims they were being used, saying they were honored and proud to be speaking on behalf of their peers.

"To be living in a black community, there's nothing bad about that," said Ukari Register, 16. "We're good people, good music, good food."

Register said he grew up without a consistent father figure, but called his hard-working mother his role model.

"Not having a father figure … that doesn't justify me going out stealing a car, going into a house, robbing somebody," said the Boca Ciega High School junior.

New programs can only work if teens choose to put their faith in them, Register said: "There are enough programs, but it's like, a child has to meet you halfway."

Contact Lisa Gartner at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @lisagartner. Contact Zachary T. Sampson at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @zacksampson.

     
Comments
Standoff ends in Lutz after man stabs woman several times

Standoff ends in Lutz after man stabs woman several times

LUTZ — A man stabbed a woman multiple times before barricading himself in a Lutz home early Tuesday morning, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.The standoff ended about three hours later with Hillsborough County Fire Rescue crews t...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Head-on crash kills three, injures two children in Zephyrhills

Head-on crash kills three, injures two children in Zephyrhills

ZEPHYRHILLS — Three people were killed and two children were seriously injured in a head-on collision that took place Sunday night, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.The crash took place about 7 p.m. on County Road 54, west of Chantel Drive.Elv...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Crossing guard admits to accidentally killing gopher tortoise in Dunedin

Crossing guard admits to accidentally killing gopher tortoise in Dunedin

A crossing guard turned himself in to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, saying he was the person seen on video running over a gopher tortoise at an elementary school on Saturday. Robert Dantschisch, 48, saw surveillance video from the sheriff’s o...
Published: 08/20/18
Robber wearing gas mask fires shot in ceiling of Pasco store, deputies say

Robber wearing gas mask fires shot in ceiling of Pasco store, deputies say

Deputies are searching for a man who held up a convenience store with a shotgun while wearing a gas mask, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.On Friday at around 9 p.m., deputies say a man robbed the Beacon Square Grocery in Holiday. Durin...
Published: 08/20/18
Manatee youth football coach accused of dealing drugs

Manatee youth football coach accused of dealing drugs

A youth football coach in Manatee County faces drug charges following his arrest on Thursday.According to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, deputies pulled over Edgard Theliar, 29, at the 3100 block of 15th Street E around 4 p.m. after he ran a re...
Published: 08/20/18
400 years later, Spanish coin is clue in mysterious death

400 years later, Spanish coin is clue in mysterious death

Before detectives found it inside a car in Colorado, before a St. Petersburg surveillance camera captured it hanging from Christie New’s neck hours before she was gravely wounded, before it was salvaged from the bottom of the ocean, police believe th...
Published: 08/20/18
400 years later, Spanish coin is clue in mysterious death

400 years later, Spanish coin is clue in mysterious death

Before detectives found it inside a car in Colorado, before a St. Petersburg surveillance camera captured it hanging from Christie New’s neck hours before she was gravely wounded, before it was salvaged from the bottom of the ocean, police believe th...
Published: 08/20/18
North Carolina fugitives, charged with shooting at cops, found and arrested in Treasure Island

North Carolina fugitives, charged with shooting at cops, found and arrested in Treasure Island

TREASURE ISLAND — Two men on the run from law enforcement in North Carolina were found hiding in Treasure Island — armed with an AR-15, a machete and a pipe bomb, deputies said — leading to a standoff with a SWAT team that ended early Sunday morning....
Published: 08/20/18
Tampa holds a birthday vigil for Lillia Raubenolt, the young girl killed on Bayshore

Tampa holds a birthday vigil for Lillia Raubenolt, the young girl killed on Bayshore

Somewhere Over the Rainbow was the first song Lillia Raubenolt’s parents sang to her as a newborn, according to her uncle, John Reisinger."They were just so happy when she was born," he said.But on May 23, while the family was visiting Tampa from Ohi...
Published: 08/19/18
Man in Spring Hill airlifted to hospital with severe electrical burns

Man in Spring Hill airlifted to hospital with severe electrical burns

A man has been airlifted to a local hospital after suffering severe electrical burns while trimming trees in Spring Hill.In a release, Pasco County Fire Rescue said the man was working on a lift and was airborne in the 18000 Block of Skinner Dr. in S...
Published: 08/19/18