CLEARWATER — A 16-year-old boy fleeing police Thursday crashed a stolen car on Park Place Boulevard, caroming between trees before pulling himself from the mangled vehicle and running.
The boy faces charges including grand theft auto and fleeing and eluding. The Times is not naming him because of his age.
He stole the Nissan Maxima from Largo, where it was left unlocked with the keys inside, according to Clearwater police. The crash sent a wheel flying and sheared off the front left portion of the car, but police said the boy suffered only minor injuries. He was caught near the scene and taken to Mease Countryside Hospital.
In a post to its Facebook page, the Clearwater Police Department wrote: "He is quite lucky to be alive, given the extensive damage to the car."
Local law enforcement leaders have labeled juvenile auto theft an epidemic in Pinellas County. The Tampa Bay Times, in an unprecedented analysis, showed in April that children here crash a stolen car on average at least once every four days. In 2015, police in Pinellas made 499 juvenile arrests for grand theft auto, more than anywhere else in Florida and even the largest counties across the country, including Los Angeles.
The series prompted U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist to hold a community meeting last month "to put an end to this madness." The congressman vowed then to reconvene the group to continue pushing for solutions in the near future.