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Lack of bed for teen offender almost leads to his death

Brenda Lane begged juvenile justice authorities not to release her grandnephew from jail. But he went free and police say he soon had stolen a car, wrecked it and nearly killed himself.

"I told them I can't control that boy," Lane said. "But I never in my wildest imaginings thought he would get into this much trouble this fast. I just thank God he didn't hurt someone else, too."

The teenager was to enter an intervention and treatment program for juvenile offenders, but no beds were available for another week. He was being sent there because he violated his probation on a prior auto theft conviction, Lane said.

Lane, the boy's guardian, was ordered Tuesday to take the teen to her home in West Palm Beach until a bed opened up.

On Wednesday night, the youth crawled out of his great aunt's guest room window and stole a neighbor's Jeep Cherokee, police said. The neighbor called police, who arrived in time to see him drive the Cherokee into a tree.

After nine hours of surgery at St. Mary's Hospital, he was listed in serious condition Friday. He has a broken pelvis, massive internal injuries and disfiguring facial injuries, Lane said.

Darryl Olson, with the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, said the case is not unusual.

"It's common," he said. "There's a real public safety issue. The family has every right to be concerned, and so does the public."

Under Florida law, after a judge has sentenced a juvenile to a treatment program, the child cannot be held in detention for more than five days. Because of the increase in juvenile crime, there is a waiting list for most programs, Olson said.