ST. PETERSBURG — They slipped out of their homes and into the Saturday night darkness without their parents knowing.
Around 3:30 a.m. the next morning, the three teen boys came across a silver 2016 Maserati on a driveway at the intersection of 62nd Avenue and 28th Street N in St. Petersburg, according to law enforcement. One covered his hand with his shirt and reached for the door handle, finding the vehicle unlocked with the keys still inside.
The trio hopped inside, pulled out of the driveway with the lights off and headed east on 62nd Avenue North. Minutes later, the car flipped, killing one passenger at the scene and leaving the other fighting for his life in the hospital, law enforcement said.
The 15-year old driver suffered critical but not life-threatening injuries.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri recounted these details during a Sunday morning news conference at the crash site.
He said the incident was captured on helicopter footage, and is set to be released to the public Tuesday.
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office was responding to an unrelated burglary call around 3:20 a.m. Sunday on 58th Avenue North when one of the agency’s helicopter pilots overhead spotted the three boys enter the Maserati.
Patrol deputies on the ground turned on their emergency lights and attempted to stop the car, but it accelerated and they did not pursue, Gualtieri said Sunday.
“We probably have one of the most restrictive pursuit policies of any agency in the state,” he said. “We don’t engage in pursuits because they’re dangerous.”
Once the deputies disengaged, he said, the car didn’t slow. Instead, the Maserati continued to barrel down 62nd Avenue North at 80 mph, more than twice the legal speed limit, the sheriff said.
The driver lost control in the area of 1024 62nd Ave. N, drove over a curb toward the commercial lot, hit a business sign and the vehicle flipped, the sheriff said.
The front-seat passenger, a 15-year-old, was pronounced dead at the scene. The 16-year-old backseat passenger was taken to the hospital with life-threatening injuries and he is not expected to survive. The driver suffered critical but not life-threatening injuries. It is unclear if any were wearing seat belts.
Gualtieri said the teens did not have a criminal history, but notes that on Sept. 11, a Kenneth City police officer stopped the trio when they were seen walking in a residential area at 4 a.m. wearing black clothes and face coverings.
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The incident was documented and their parents were informed, but the teens were allowed to return home, Gualtieri said.
He said Sunday that the event was a tragic example of the “crimes of opportunity” the agency responds to frequently.
Juvenile car thefts have long been an issue that Pinellas County law enforcement has sought to address. A 2017 Tampa Bay Times investigation tracked more than 500 cars stolen by teens and found that in the majority of cases where the method of stealing the car was known, the vehicles had been left unlocked.
Two of the teens attended St. Pete High and one attended Northeast High.
“These are fluid investigations,” the sheriff said. He would have held the news conference Monday, he said, but noted he will be attending the funeral for the Pinellas deputy killed in the line of duty last month. Michael Hartwick was killed Sept. 22 after he was hit by a construction worker driving a front loader on I-275 near Roosevelt Boulevard. The deputy had been assigned to direct traffic away from road work. The construction worker fled the scene, sparking a nine-hour manhunt.
“We’ve talked to the parents and they last saw them at home when they went to bed and they said they were home,” the sheriff said. One of the suspects shared a bedroom with a sibling, who “didn’t even know he left,” he said.
“They said that they had noticed some concerning behavior and they were trying to work through it,” he said of the boys’ families. “One of the parents had moved the kid recently from one school to another.”
Behind the sheriff was the stolen car, on its roof and crumpled like an accordion. The lives of the three families forever altered — before any of the boys could even get a driver’s license.
This is a developing story. Stay with tampabay.com for updates.