Saturday, April 21, 2018
Public safety

Dash cam video of stolen car crash that killed three girls raises questions on social media regarding Pinellas Sheriff's Office actions (w/video)

A portion of a dash cam video from the March 31 crash that killed three teenage girls who were in a stolen car as it sank into a pond circulated on social media Friday, prompting questions about whether Pinellas Sheriff's deputies did enough to rescue them.

Earlier this week, the Sheriff's Office released its investigation report and several dash cam videos from the crash.

One segment of the video showed a few deputies at the scene talking about the submerged Honda Accord as they stood a few feet from the pond.

"It's going all the way down. It's almost fully submerged," one deputy says. "I hear them yelling, I think!"

"They're done. They're done. They are sig 7, dude."

"Sig 7" refers to signal 7, a radio code for "dead person."

"Did you hear yelling? I thought I heard yelling as it was going down," a deputy said.

The video was under scrutiny Friday by several online media sources that say the deputies did nothing to rescue the girls. But Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has maintained that his deputies tried to get in the water, but couldn't due to the muddy conditions.

The dash cam footage does not show deputies conducting rescue attempts or capture any conversations about rescue efforts. It does show some deputies, without uniforms or belts on, heading to and from the water.

The Sheriff's Office posted that video clip to its Facebook page Friday.

"It's a bunch of junk," the sheriff said Friday of the allegations. "Those deputies went in that water and tried to save those girls at their own peril."

The Sheriff's investigative reports indicate that deputies tried to reach the car. Deputy Jeff Clement wrote in his report: "Myself and other deputies began to enter the swampy water... the fact that the vehicle was still moving, along with the unstable ground and excessive water vegetation, made a rescue too risky for those involved."

Michele Whitfield, an attorney representing the family of two of the girls, said the video shows "there's more questions that need to be answered."

"I just feel like at this point, the Sheriff is giving an appearance of transparency," she said. "There's still some documents that I am waiting for."

According to Gualtieri's statements and reports released earlier this week, the girls, Laniya Miller, 15, Ashaunti Butler, 15, and Dominique Battle, 16, had asked a 36-year-old man for a ride to Childs Park on the night of March 30. When he stopped at a Walmart in St. Petersburg, leaving the Accord running, the teens drove off in the car, records show.

About 3:30 a.m. March 31, a sheriff's sergeant saw the Honda with its headlights off as it headed east on Sunset Point Road in Clearwater, west of U.S. 19. The sergeant tried to stop the car, but it continued south.

Another Pinellas sergeant spotted the car later and determined it was stolen in St. Petersburg. Deputies followed the car from a distance. Under Sheriff's Office policy, deputies cannot pursue stolen cars.

The Honda eventually headed toward the Royal Palm North Cemetery off Gandy Boulevard, a dead end. At a sharp bend in the road about 4 a.m., the car stayed on a straight course and went into a pond.

Within five minutes, the Honda submerged in about 15 feet of water.

Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] Follow @lauracmorel.

 
Comments
Dade City man killed in early morning hit-and-run, police say

Dade City man killed in early morning hit-and-run, police say

A Pasco County man was struck and killed in an apparent hit-and-run early Saturday, police said.Thomas Michael Burdeshaw, 53, who lived on Sundance Drive in Dade City, was hit about 1:45 a.m. on the 36000 block of Blanton Road, police said.Witnesses ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Police searching for person who shot a man to death in Largo

Police searching for person who shot a man to death in Largo

CLEARWATER — Police are looking for a person who shot and killed a man late Friday at the Melrose on the Bay apartments on Bolesta Road. Ricardo Guzman, 32, called 911 just before midnight and told the operator he had been shot, said Lt. Randall Chan...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Motorcyclist dies after crash on Memorial Highway

Motorcyclist dies after crash on Memorial Highway

TAMPA — A motorcyclist driving north on Memorial Highway died after he crashed into a guard rail late Friday, police said."The man failed to negotiate a curve in the road and struck a guard rail," said Lt. Brett Owen. "No other vehicle was involved i...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Cops used dead man’s finger in attempt to access his phone. It’s legal, but is it okay?

Cops used dead man’s finger in attempt to access his phone. It’s legal, but is it okay?

LARGO — Most people agree what the Largo detectives did at the funeral home was legal.What they diverge on is whether it was appropriate."I just felt so disrespected and violated," said Victoria Armstrong, whose fiance, Linus F. Phillip, was shot and...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Deputies: Woman in road rage incident targeted ... a school bus?

Deputies: Woman in road rage incident targeted ... a school bus?

TAMPA — Deputies are searching for a woman accused of blocking a special needs school bus with her car, getting out and banging and kicking on the bus door until she broke the glass.And there were four children inside, deputies said, as she shouted a...
Published: 04/20/18
St. Pete police search for missing 20-year-old woman

St. Pete police search for missing 20-year-old woman

ST. PETERSBURG — Officers are searching for a 20-year-old woman who they believe to be missing and who could be in danger.Kayla Brandi Boone was last seen at about 11 p.m. Thursday in the 2700 block of Fourth Street S, according to St. Petersburg pol...
Published: 04/20/18

Deputies: 19-month-old child found in New Port Richey pond has died

NEW PORT RICHEY — The 19-month-old child that was found in a pond on Thursday afternoon has died, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.The incident took place at about 12:31 p.m. Deputies and firefighters were called out to a home in the 47...
Published: 04/20/18
Suspect in Gilchrist deputies’ slayings has Tampa Bay ties

Suspect in Gilchrist deputies’ slayings has Tampa Bay ties

The man identified as the suspect who fatally shot two Gilchrist County deputies in a restaurant Thursday afternoon before taking his own life has ties to the Tampa Bay area.Deputies say John Hubert Highnote, 59, of Bell — who was found dead outside ...
Published: 04/20/18
Authorities say motive in deputy killings may never be known

Authorities say motive in deputy killings may never be known

TRENTON — Investigators in Florida say they may never know why a man - a recluse from a rural farm community who rarely ventured into town - killed two sheriff’s deputies while they sat in a Chinese restaurant. John Hubert Highnote, 58, of Bell casua...
Published: 04/20/18
One injured, suspect in custody in Ocala school shooting

One injured, suspect in custody in Ocala school shooting

OCALA — One student shot another in the ankle at a Florida high school and the suspected shooter is in custody, authorities said Friday.The Marion County Sheriff’s Office reported that the shooting happened Friday morning at Forest High School, which...
Published: 04/20/18