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4 teens arrested in auto thefts

Four teenagers have been accused of stealing cars and setting them on fire during a six-week spree west of here.

The boys, from 13 to 16, allegedly stole two cars and two pickups and set fire to three of the four.

The boys never tried to sell the cars or strip them, said Sgt. Kenny Frazier of the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.

"Just seemed to be for the thrill of it," he said.

The boys were arrested Tuesday and charged with a variety of offenses, including grand theft, arson and criminal mischief. Three had been in trouble before and were sent to the state's juvenile detention center in Ocala, deputies said. The other was released on his own recognizance.

At least two other juveniles were being sought in the case, deputies said.

The string of thefts started Jan. 21 or Jan. 22.

A white 1984 Chevrolet pickup was stolen at night from a used-car lot at Paul Clark Enterprises on State Road 50. The thieves drove it through a fence, into a tree, through woods and across a back yard on Fort Dade Avenue. It was recovered Jan. 25 in a field east of No Doc Road. It had been abandoned after becoming stuck in sand, but had not been set on fire.

Owner Paul Clark said the thieves lost a tire and continued driving on the metal rim. That left grooves in the road and ground, and allowed deputies to follow the tracks to the abandoned truck, he said. Damage to the truck was estimated at $800.

On Feb. 27, two more vehicles were reported stolen from the same business: a light blue 1979 Buick and a tan 1978 Ford pickup, which was the shop truck and carried tools and equipment.

The Buick was found on fire the same day at Boatwrite Road and Irving Street. The Ford was found on fire off Powell Road south of Brooksville. Both were destroyed.

The loss was estimated at $5,000, including the tools, which were left at the scene. That suggested to Clark that the motive for the car thefts wasn't to profit, he said, but "just to get out there and burn 'em. Just for the fun of it, I guess."

Two days after the double theft, somebody stole Charles Pringle's 1973 Ford LTD II from his home west of the city. The car's charred remains were found later that day at the south end of Boatwrite Road.

It had been in excellent shape, a "cream puff," in fact, Pringle said.

Pringle, 59, of Lucky Lane, suggested that the boys dig ditches as punishment and added that he would be glad to supervise the activity for the state.

All the suspects were from the Brooksville area.

Detectives said the boys may have set the fires to cover their tracks. The teens were caught through routine investigation and the observations of patrol deputies, Frazier said.

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