ST. PETERSBURG — An 18-year-old driver fled from a deputy on Thursday night, raced south on Interstate 275, then blew through a red light and struck another vehicle, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
The 18-year-old’s vehicle then spun out of control into the crosswalk, mowing down a pedestrian.
The driver, Jamar Johnson, ran away but was quickly captured, deputies said.
The pedestrian, Jee-esta J. Shurock, 30, was later pronounced dead at a hospital.
“He was not remorseful,” Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said of the 18-year-old when he was arrested.
“When you have a kid like this, he’s just too far gone,” the sheriff said at a Friday news conference.
To the sheriff, Thursday’s fatal incident was another casualty of Pinellas County’s juvenile car thief problem. This week in St. Petersburg, a speeding, stolen vehicle killed a pedestrian early Monday and then that night a 15-year-old driving a stolen vehicle struck a city police cruiser, injuring a sergeant.
The Nissan Maxima that Johnson was driving was not reported stolen, but Gualtieri said the driver ran with the crowd of teens responsible for stealing cars over and over again. Johnson has a long arrest record as a juvenile, including two counts of grand theft auto.
“The same old story,” the sheriff said. “Here we go again.”
Johnson now faces far more serious charges of vehicular homicide, fleeing and eluding police, leaving the scene of a crash involving death, leaving the scene of a crash with property damage and driving with a license suspended or revoked. Deputies believe the Maxima belonged to one of Johnson’s friends. The crash is still under investigation.
The incident started at about 9:24 p.m. Thursday. The Sheriff’s Office gave this account:
A deputy with the violent crimes task force, driving a marked sheriff’s vehicle, spotted the Nissan Maxima near 44th Street N and Park Boulevard N in Pinellas Park. The Maxima’s tag light wasn’t working and its window tint was too dark, the agency said.
The deputy tried to pull Johnson over, but instead he sped off, the Sheriff’s Office said. The deputy did not chase the driver, Gualtieri said. Instead, the task force followed Johnson in unmarked vehicles.
Johnson sped east on Park Boulevard N, merged onto Interstate 275 and headed south “at a high rate of speed,” the sheriff said. The task force trailed the Nissan for about 13 miles as it entered St. Petersburg. Then Johnson abruptly crossed three lanes of heavy traffic to get off at the Fifth Avenue N off-ramp, deputies said, and headed toward 20th Street N.
At the same time, a 2013 Honda Accord driven by Caroline Dewitt, 18, was headed east on Fifth Avenue N. She had the green light to cross the 20th Street N intersection.
Johnson ran the red light and smashed into the Accord, deputies said. The Nissan then spun toward Shurock, who was using the crosswalk with a friend.
Shurock, of Pinellas Park, later died. Dewitt, of St. Petersburg, was not injured. Johnson was treated at a local hospital, then booked into the Pinellas County jail, where he was being held Friday in lieu of $25,250 bail.
“What typically happens with these cases … is that these people drive this way, whether we’re behind them or not,” Gualtieri said. “They drive crazy, they drive dangerously.”
In 2018, Johnson was arrested on charges of grand theft auto and leaving the scene of a crash involving property damage. He’s also faced charges of trafficking in hydromorphone, possession of crack cocaine and driving with a license that is suspended or revoked.
Gualtieri said Johnson had been monitored by the sheriff’s Habitual Offender Monitoring Enforcement program, which was launched in 2016 to clamp down on repeat juvenile offenders. Johnson was not wanted at the time of Thursday’s incident.
A 2017 Tampa Bay Times investigation found that Pinellas County had a larger rate of juveniles arrested for grand theft auto than any other county in Florida. The thieves were prolific, repeatedly stealing vehicles and getting caught over and over again.
The sheriff said progress has been made combating that trend, but those types of crimes also tend to spike during the summer. And it takes just one young, reckless driver to take lives.
Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Sam Ogozalek at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3430. Follow @SamOgozalek.