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Another teen fights for his life following reported stolen car crash

From left: Congressman Charlie Crist, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and St. Petersburg Police Chief Tony Holloway during a meeting this summer to discuss the ongoing car theft epidemic among Pinellas youth. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
From left: Congressman Charlie Crist, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and St. Petersburg Police Chief Tony Holloway during a meeting this summer to discuss the ongoing car theft epidemic among Pinellas youth. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Nov. 21, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — Another teenager is fighting for his life after a crash involving a car that was later reported stolen, according to police.

The 15-year-old was a passenger in a 2014 Chevrolet Camaro that hit a tree in the 4000 block of 11th Avenue S shortly after 11 a.m. Sunday. He remained in critical condition on Monday. The driver, 14, was in serious condition but was expected to survive, investigators said.

The Tampa Bay Times is not naming the boys because of their ages and the fact that no criminal charges had been filed early Monday. Officers were continuing to investigate. It was not immediately clear how the car was stolen.

Police leaders were frustrated by yet another violent wreck in an auto theft epidemic that has already led to the deaths of eight teens in two years. The crash comes amid new efforts to expand juvenile programs and toughen laws around car theft.

"Someone needs to start taking ownership of this, because here we are again right back to two kids fighting for their lives," said St. Petersburg police Chief Tony Holloway. "When are we going to say enough is enough?"

The car was speeding when it hit a dip in the road and the driver lost control, police said.

The Times has chronicled the juvenile auto theft crisis in the series "Hot Wheels," which showed that in an 18-month period, teens in Pinellas County crashed stolen cars every four days. Police arrested juveniles for grand theft auto more here than anywhere else in Florida.

TAMPA BAY TIMES SPECIAL REPORT: HOW TEENS ARE DRIVING PINELLAS COUNTY'S CAR THEFT EPIDEMIC

HOT WHEELS: Kids are driving Pinellas County's car-theft epidemic. It's a dangerous — sometimes deadly — game.

THE CHASE: Cops, teen car thieves and a dangerous game

WRONG WAY: At 15, Isaiah Battle was the county's No. 1 car thief. He had every reason to stop.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said news of the crash was another sign that authorities have not gotten the problem under control.

"This shouldn't be a shock to anybody," he said. "It's happening everyday."

In August, three Clearwater teens died in a stolen sport utility vehicle crash on Tampa Road. The youngest was 14.

Local politicians and community leaders have held several meetings in response to the Times' series, vowing to push for more programs for children, especially in the county's poorest neighborhoods.

"We don't need more community meetings. We need community action," Gualtieri said. "The talking needs to stop, and the action needs to start by everybody."

Next month, he will serve on a committee reviewing the state scoring tool used to determine if a juvenile should be held immediately after an arrest. Often, teens arrested for auto theft spend just a few hours or days in a detention center before going home. Gualtieri plans to recommend changes.

"Property crime, especially related to auto theft, does not reflect the severity that it should be," he said.

TAMPA BAY TIMES COVERAGE: THREE BOYS DIE IN STOLEN VEHICLE

Three boys dead after fiery crash in stolen SUV, Pinellas sheriff says

Teens in stolen car crash had 126 arrests; murder charges possible (w/video)

Sheriff releases video showing teens reaching 140 mph before fatal Palm Harbor SUV crash

TIMELINE:Three boys died in a stolen vehicle: Here's how it unfolded (w/video)

Holloway has recently visited two teens charged with auto theft at the Juvenile Detention Center, and he has another session planned for as early as next week. The meetings have included an official from the Department of Juvenile Justice, a public defender and the Police Department's liaison for at-risk children, the Rev. Kenneth Irby.

One teen told them he needs a car to pick up girls; another said his father once told him to "find his own way home," so the boy hopped in an unlocked car. The vast majority of vehicles are stolen after drivers leave them unlocked with keys inside.

The boys explained that they did not have anyone who looked out for them in life.

"We were just shaking our heads," Holloway said, "because the kids said the same thing: No one cares."

The teens shared that a police initiative, called Habitual Offender Monitoring Enforcement (HOME), made them more careful about getting caught, Irby said. The program involves officers checking in each night at the homes of the county's most frequent juvenile offenders.

Irby said he would like to find a way for the Department of Juvenile Justice and the courts to directly refer kids to "Men in the Making" and "Cohort of Champions," two programs he runs for children in the city.

The boys at the detention center, he recalled, said they would not take vehicles with car seats in them — worried about stealing from young mothers. Irby took that as a sign they have compassion and, with direction, could be helped.

"Nobody cares, don't nobody care — that is the thought and feeling that has been ingrained in them," Irby said. "We as a community and a city have to find ways to reinforce to these children that we care."

Contact Zachary T. Sampson at zsampson@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8804. Follow @ZackSampson.

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