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Deputies capture teens 20 hours after escape

Published Sep. 29, 2005

Under cover of darkness, a pair of teens charged with felonies slipped out of Youth Environmental Services, a residential program for juvenile delinquents, and into the surrounding woods in Wimauma early Tuesday, according to sheriff's deputies.

The two 16-year-olds, Mark Price and Joshua James, both of Tampa, were captured shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday after a resident reported seeing them near Hillsborough Street in Wimauma. They were picked up by sheriff's deputies and taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center.

Price made headlines in February when he and two other boys were accused of shooting at passing motorists on U.S. 41 with a .22-caliber rifle, injuring a 60-year-old woman, deputies said.

Citing the teens' extensive criminal histories, deputies massed 13 patrol units, along with dogs and a helicopter, to look for the pair Tuesday morning, said Sgt. Rod Reder, a sheriff's spokesman. But by early Tuesday evening the search had not turned up evidence of their whereabouts.

Don Goff, a program administrator at the Department of Juvenile Justice, said the Youth Environmental Services program is designed for 16- and 17-year-old boys who commit felonies. During six-month stints in the program, teens do community service aimed at improving the environment, Goff said.

About 25 staff people work with the teens and oversee the facility 24 hours a day. But the program is housed, he said, in a non-secure building, meaning there are no locks on the doors and no fences around the property. Instead, staff members rely on the surrounding woods to deter escapees.

"The lay of the land makes it difficult to get away. So for the most part, it discourages youths from getting away," Goff said.

Teens have walked away from the building before during the four years the program has existed. In 1996, five teens escaped and in 1995, two teens walked away while chopping wood as punishment for an earlier escape.

But Goff noted that in recent years, the facility has had no escapes.

Goff said Tuesday morning's escape took place about 1 a.m. when staff members were doing routine bed checks. Just as staff members noticed that James and Price were not in their beds, he said, the pair ran from a corner where they had been hiding.

"They darted past staff members and into the woods," Goff said.

The two teens are currently charged with felonies. Price faces two counts of robbery while James is charged with grand theft motor vehicle, theft and burglary of a conveyance, deputies said.