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Youth sought in killings is on the loose in Tampa

A 17-year-old suspect in two murders has escaped from a juvenile detention facility and may be hiding out with a second teen-age suspect, police say.

Michael Harvis was in the Hillsborough Regional Juvenile Detention Center's fenced-in recreation yard with 36 other youths when he escaped Thursday afternoon, possibly by scaling a fence and sneaking across a roof.

Investigators say Harvis should be considered "very dangerous."

"We work very hard to catch people," said Tampa police spokesman Steve Cole. "And when you have to re-catch somebody, it makes it even more frustrating."

Harvis, of 3010 E Chelsea, is a suspect in two recent murders.

One was the killing of 17-year-old Isaac Velazquez, who was shot to death Jan. 22 outside a home at 8302 22nd St. Two of Velazquez's friends were shot in the buttocks in that incident, police said.

A month earlier, 41-year-old Robert Coleman was shot three times during a robbery at E Wilder and 39th Street. He bled to death at the scene.

James Baker, 16, also is wanted in the Coleman murder.

"We believe Harvis may be linking up with his old crime buddy Baker," Cole said. "They may be hiding out somewhere here in town."

Harvis has been charged with first-degree murder in the two killings, and prosecutors plan to seek indictments against him next week, even if he isn't captured by then.

Harvis, who has an arrest record dating back to 1988, was charged last year with car theft and criminal mischief, court records show. Although prosecutors asked that he be treated as an adult, he was sentenced to juvenile commitment _ usually, a term in a halfway house.

Because of Harvis' age, authorities declined to comment on the specifics of his record. But in general, prosecutors say, lack of punishment for young criminals can be frustrating.

"In the juvenile system, you can do some two dozen crimes without any meaningful punishment," said Chris Hoyer, Hillsborough chief assistant state attorney. "I can't tell you how many dozens of cases we have to deal with where the summary sheet is filled with thefts and burglaries and nothing is done, or meaningless commitment sentences are handed out."

If a crime is serious, commitment in juvenile court can mean time in a secured detention facility for juveniles. But in Florida, there are 739 people on a waiting list for a spot in one of those facilities.

"Sometimes they're put back on the streets," said Tom Jones, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. "What usually happens is they end up getting back in trouble."

Harvis had been at the dormitory-style detention center since Feb. 8. According to Jones, the last escape from the yard was in 1989.