HOT WHEELS

In 2016, three teenage girls drove a stolen car into a cemetery pond and drowned. Like many other teens in Pinellas County, they had made a sport of stealing cars, and before that night, had been arrested a combined seven times for grand theft auto. The Tampa Bay Times sought to understand this phenomenon: Kids stealing cars, driving dangerously, getting arrested again and again with little repercussions.

We spent months reading thousands of pages of police reports; riding along with officers who specialize in this crime; interviewing judges, lawyers and criminologists; and talking with teenage car thieves, their families and their victims.

We learned that this real life game of Grand Theft Auto is dangerous. It’s spreading. And we’re part of the problem.

Major developments

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Read our continuing coverage

About the reporters

Zachary T. Sampson
is a Times reporter who covers crime and breaking news in St. Petersburg. His 2016 investigation into Walmart’s costly practice of using local law enforcement officers to police its stores garnered national acclaim and led to reforms. Contact him at zsampson@tampabay.com.
Lisa Gartner
is a reporter on the Times enterprise team. She won a Pulitzer Prize in 2016 for an investigation that showed how a neglectful school board turned some Pinellas County schools into “Failure Factories.” Contact her at lgartner@tampabay.com.
Dirk Shadd
is an award-winning photojournalist whose project work includes “Failure Factories,” has spent more than 18 years covering Lightning hockey. Contact him at dshadd@tampabay.com.