Sunday, February 18, 2018
News Roundup

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

For the second time in a little over a year another group of kids died in a stolen car, adding to the death toll of Pinellas County's pervasive juvenile auto theft epidemic.

HOT WHEELS: Kids are driving Pinellas County's car-theft epidemic. It's a dangerous — sometimes deadly — game.

Last year it was three teen girls who drowned when their stolen car plunged into a pond in the early morning dark. This weekend it was three teen boys who died in the fiery wreck of their stolen sport-utility vehicle.

Here's how Sunday's deadly incident unfolded:

1 a.m. Thursday — Thieves smashed a window at Platinum Plus Sales, an auto dealership in Clearwater, stealing five sets of keys, a 2015 Ford Explorer and a 2008 Chrysler Sebring.

1 a.m. Sunday — A Pinellas County Sheriff's Office deputy saw the stolen Explorer in a gas station parking lot in Dunedin, the agency said. He attempted to stop the car, but the Explorer fled. The sheriff's policy does not allow the high-speed pursuit of most stolen vehicles, so the deputy did not chase after the SUV.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Tearful teen who survived stolen SUV crash to be held in juvenile detention

Keontae Brown, 16, Keondrae Brown, 14, Jimmie Goshey, 14, and Dejarae Thomas, 16, were riding in the Explorer at the time, deputies said.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Teens in stolen car crash had 126 arrests; murder charges possible (w/video)

2 a.m. Sunday — The Explorer arrived at Deyon Kaigler's house in Clearwater. After an argument over who should drive which vehicle, deputies said, Deyon drove the Sebring. He later told deputies that Dejarae had pointed a cocked gun at his head during the argument, urging Deyon to instead get in the Explorer.

They teens eventually drove both cars to Kamal Campbell's house and smoked marijuana.

2:30 a.m. Sunday — The boys used both vehicles to "car-hop" through neighborhoods in Safety Harbor and Oldsmar. They tried door handles of cars parked along the street and broke into several. They wore gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints.

At one point, the sheriff said, they hopped out of one of the stolen vehicles and shifted it to neutral, letting it coast down the road as they all looked for more open cars.

4 a.m. Sunday — The Explorer and Sebring were seen entering East Lake Woodlands, where the boys burglarized more cars. Spooked by a patrolling sheriff's helicopter, deputies said the boys decided to flee the area.

4:30 a.m. Sunday — A deputy saw the Sebring and Explorer play a game of cat and mouse on Tampa Road, speeding up and then aggressively slowing down as they passed each other. The deputy followed them while waiting for backup to arrive.

Keontae drove the Explorer while Keondrae, Dejarae and Jimmie rode with him. Deyon drove the Sebring and had Kamal, 18, with him.

Suddenly, the Sebring slowed almost to a stop as the Explorer took off, zooming out of sight. The deputy called over the radio that he was turning around, and that the people in the Explorer had turned off all its lights.

The SUV blew through a red light. It was going 117 mph just 2½-seconds before impact, according to crash recovery data released by the Sheriff's Office. The SUV collided with a 1999 Toyota Camry in the middle lane of U.S. 19 N. The Camry was driven by Ricky Melendez Jr., who was on his way to work. When the Explorer struck the Camry, it was going 112 mph.

"I remember I was spinning," Melendez said.

The Explorer went airborne. It crashed into five cars parked in an auto dealership lot on the side of the road, deputies said, before striking a billboard pole 10 feet in the air. It careened off the pole, struck a few more cars and tumbled into the middle of Tampa Road.

The SUV burst into flames. A deputy pulled up 20 seconds later and began spraying the snarled metal with a fire extinguisher.

Keontae had been thrown from the car. He died in the street.

Dejarae and Jimmie were trapped. They died inside the burning Explorer. When he was removed from the vehicle, Jimmie still had black gloves on his hands, which deputies said he'd worn during the burglaries.

Keondrae was also thrown through the windshield. He blacked out and woke up in the middle of the road, covered in shards of glass. He was taken to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg for medical treatment.

Deyon and Kamal saw a fireball consume the Explorer on the street ahead of them. They knew something was wrong but decided to flee, deputies said, pausing next to the wreck before turning left through a red light on U.S. 19.

The sheriff's helicopter followed overhead for about 20 minutes as the car wound its way into Clearwater. The Sebring briefly drove the wrong way on Keene Road before cutting into a neighborhood, where it stopped. The boys ran, dashing through yards and hopping fences. One boy opened a back door to a house and went inside briefly. He ran again until he encountered a deputy with his gun drawn. The boy lay down on his stomach and spread his arms.

Deyon told his mother the next day in a phone call that some of the deputies had asked him to go back to the scene and identify his friends. He said he could not and begged them to keep him away from the bodies.

3:30 p.m. Sunday — Melendez, 29, was released from Mease Countryside Hospital, where he was taken after the crash. Doctors said he broke a bone in his foot, shattered his collarbone and had internal bleeding in his stomach from the force of his seatbelt pressing into his body. He could be out of work for at least a month and may need surgery.

"No matter the circumstances, no matter what those kids were doing, it's sad for them and especially for their parents," he said. "No one deserves to die that young, no matter what they were doing."

Monday morning — Deyon made his first appearance in juvenile court. He faces charges of auto theft and resisting arrest. He was ordered to be held at the Juvenile Detention Center for the maximum 21 days allowed by law.

1:30 p.m. Monday — Kamal was charged as an adult with auto theft and resisting arrest. A judge ordered that he be held in the Pinellas County jail in lieu of $25,000 bail.

4 p.m. Monday — Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri held a news conference and said investigators might recommend that the boys who survived should face felony murder charges.

The charge can apply if someone is killed during the commission of, or attempt to commit, a felony crime, according to Florida statute. One of those crimes is burglary.

Murder is punishable by up to life in prison

Collectively, the six boys had been arrested 126 times, including charges of auto theft. Many had just been released from juvenile detention in the past month. Gualtieri said they're all examples of the county's car theft epidemic, which is driven by juveniles who keep stealing cars but face no real consequences.

"We have a serious problem and something else needs to happen," Gualtieri said.

7:45 a.m. Tuesday — Keondrae was released from Bayfront Health St. Petersburg on Monday. The next morning, he appeared in juvenile court in a wheelchair, his head wrapped in bandages.

He was arrested on a charge of grand theft auto and ordered held in juvenile detention for 21 days — the maximum that juveniles can be held for.

Keondrae's family and attorney asked a judge to release the 14-year-old so he could attend the funeral of his older brother, Keontae, 16.

The judge declined to do so.

TAMPA BAY TIMES COVERAGE: THREE TEENS DIE IN STOLEN SUV

PREVIOUS STORY: Teens in stolen car crash had 126 arrests; murder charges possible

VIGIL: Friends, family gather in Clearwater to remember teens who died in SUV crash

EDITORIAL: Another fatal crash, another call to fight car thefts

ROMANO: Before the stolen car you will likely find stolen dreams

THE KIDS: Six teens involved in stolen car crash have troubled histories

THE VICTIM: Ricky Melendez recalls horrific crash that killed three in stolen car

5 WAYS: Officials are trying to stop Pinellas teen car thieves

HOT WHEELS: Kids are driving Pinellas County's car-theft epidemic. It's a dangerous — sometimes deadly — game.

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