CLEARWATER — Keondrae Brown was just 14 when bailiffs wheeled him into a courtroom in 2017, his bruised, bandaged face the latest symbol of Pinellas County’s deadly, juvenile-fueled car theft epidemic. His 16-year-old brother and two friends had died in the fiery wreck of a stolen SUV.
Keondrae was the only survivor.
“The problem is that these kids could have cared less about their crimes,” Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told the Tampa Bay Times then. “They had no concern whatsoever about the juvenile justice system.”
Now 15, Keondrae is still in the same juvenile justice system and in the same kind of trouble once again, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
He and a 17 year old eluded deputies in a stolen vehicle early Friday, ditched it, and then were captured near the Pinellas Trail trying to run away from deputies, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
The 15 year old also had six active juvenile pick-up orders for other charges and was classified as a prolific juvenile offender, according to the Sheriff’s Office. He will turn 16 in three weeks.
2017: THREE TEENS DIE IN STOLEN SUV CRASH
The Sheriff’s Office said the teen’s latest arrest unfolded like this:
Deputies were on routine patrol, looking out for potential burglars near 298th Avenue N and 67th Street N . Then at about 2:15 a.m., deputies said a male ran from them after seeing a sheriff’s vehicle.
The deputies watched as Keondrae and the 17-year-old entered a stolen vehicle and sped off.
A sheriff’s helicopter tracked the teens as they drove southbound along U.S. 19.
Deputies on the ground tried to disable the stolen vehicle by placing a tire deflation device on the roadway, the Sheriff’s Office said, but the teens drove around it.
The teens exited U.S. 19 and headed west on Sunset Point Road. The teens made numerous turns before coming to a stop at Fulton Avenue and Harbor Drive. Then the two left the vehicle and ran north, deputies said, attempting to hide behind the houses there.
Eventually they ran into a wooded area along the Pinellas Trail until deputies and a sheriff’s dog located and arrested both.
HOT WHEELS: Read the Tampa Bay Times special report.
Keondrae and the 17 year old were both arrested on one count each of grand theft auto. The Times is withholding the 17-year-old’s name because of his age.
It is the same charge Keondrae faced in the deadly Aug. 6, 2017 crash he survived.
Five teens were using stolen vehicles to “car-hop” through Safety Harbor and Oldsmar, deputies said, looking for unlocked cars to rob or steal. They wore gloves. Four rode in a stolen 2015 Ford Explorer. Two were in a 2008 Chrysler Sebring. They would elude deputies and at about 4:30 a.m. on a Sunday, were seen playing cat-and-mouse with each other on Tampa Road, one speeding up and the other slowing down and so on.
A deputy who had spotted them was waiting for back-up, the Sheriff’s Office said, when the Explorer took off with its headlights turned off.
The SUV ran through a red light — it was going 117 mph just 2½-seconds before impact, according to crash recovery data — and then collided with a 1999 Toyota Camry in the middle lane of U.S. 19 N, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
The Camry driver, Ricky Melendez Jr., was on his way to work.
The Explorer was sent airborne, crashed into five parked cars at a dealership and then struck a billboard pole 10 feet above the ground before tumbling to stop on Tampa Road.
Keondrae was thrown from the back seat. So was his brother, Keontae Brown, 16, who was driving and died in the wreck. The SUV quickly caught fire, and two other teens died inside: Jimmie Goshey, 14; and Dejarae Thomas, 16.
The two teens in the Sebring, Deyon Kaigler, then 16, and Kamal Campbell, then 18, saw the fiery crash and sped off, the Sheriff’s Office said. They were captured 20 minutes away trying to run away.
Juvenile court records are not public record, so the disposition of those cases was not known late Friday.
Melendez suffered internal bleeding, a shattered collarbone and a broken foot in the crash. The stolen SUV struck his Camry at 112 mph, deputies said.
In Friday’s incident, Keondrae also faces charges of aggravated fleeing and eluding and loitering and prowling. He was on felony probation for a charge of grand theft auto. The Sheriff’s Office said he is classified as a prolific juvenile offender. That meant he was being monitored by the Habitual Offender Monitoring Enforcement program, a task force aimed at teens with a minimum of five felony arrests.
The 17 year old was also on felony probation and being monitored by the same task force.
Both teens could face additional charges. Both were both taken to a familiar place: the Pinellas Juvenile Assessment Center.
Contact McKenna Oxenden at [email protected] Follow @mack_oxenden.