ST. PETERSBURG — Two boys were pulled out of a white Chevrolet Camaro after it smashed into a tree in November. One boy died last month and on Saturday, the other was charged with murder.
St. Petersburg police charged Myles Abbott, 14, with vehicular homicide/third-degree murder. According to police, Abbott drove the stolen 2014 Camaro with Alijah Armstead, 15, in the passenger seat a few days before Thanksgiving.
Abbott struck a dip in the roadway near 11th Avenue S at 40th Street and smashed into a tree, police said. Both boys were taken to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, police said.
Armstead died Jan. 1 as a result of the crash, police said. Because Armstead died as a result of a felony (car theft), Abbott is charged with murder, police said.
Abbott is being held at the Pinellas County Jail on a $500,000 bond.
As word spread of the charges, opinion was divided about whether the 14-year-old driver should have been charged as an adult. Meanwhile, the mother of the 15-year-old who died said she fears more children will die if nothing is done.
The Tampa Bay Times has chronicled the teen car theft epidemic in its "Hot Wheels" series, talking to young car thieves in Pinellas, their parents, police, judges and local leaders. Reporters found that in an 18-month period, kids crashed stolen cars at least once every four days.
Antoinette Armstead said her son Alijah was the youngest of five children. The crash happened during a fall school break, she said. Her son made good grades, loved to swim and stayed out of trouble while at school, she said.
"He had a bright future," Armstead said. "He made a bad choice. He got into a car with the wrong person."
Armstead said she didn't know that Abbott was charged in her son's death. During the weeks leading up to her son's death, she wasn't concerned with anyone being punished, Armstead said.
"My focus was on saving my son's life," she said. "A lot of kids in the community have died like this. Our kids are dying out here. I'm sure there will be more to come."
Former juvenile judge Irene Sullivan said Armstead's death was tragic as were the possible consequences for Abbott.
But if the facts bear out in trial, the charge was a correct one, she said.
"It's felony murder. If he stole a car, it's a felony and the death was in the commission of a felony. That's called felony murder," said Sullivan, a retired Pasco-Pinellas circuit judge who handled many juvenile cases. "It's a tragedy for all concerned. But juvenile car theft has become a really big problem in St. Petersburg."
State Sen. Darryl Rouson, who represents the Childs Park neighborhood, said he didn't know all the details of the crash, but is anguished that teenagers don't seem to understand the consequences of stealing a car.
"There are consequences for stealing a car and crashing it and someone dies. You can't be upset with law enforcement for enforcing consequences," he said.
But, Rouson said, there is growing appetite in the Legislature to raise the age in which juveniles can be tried as adults. And he said there needs to be a more concerted effort to provide services and mentoring to at-risk teens. To that end, he's requested $30,000 in the Senate budget to start a pilot program with Pinellas County's black attorneys to find new ways to break through to chronic offenders.
"These aren't bad boys. They're good boys who are making bad choices," he said. "I think we need to be more understanding before we file adult charges against a 14-year-old."
Until that occurs, Rouson said, young people need to know that fatal crashes in stolen cars leave them at the mercy of judicial and prosecutorial discretion, he said.
In January, St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice sponsored a resolution supporting the Southern Poverty Law Center's call to try children as juveniles and keep them out of the adult legal system.
On Saturday, Rice echoed her earlier position.
"This is a tragedy. Every case has its own set of circumstances, but 14-year-olds do not yet have the reasoning and judgment capabilities of adults," Rice wrote in a text.
Times staff writer Zachary T. Sampson contributed to this story. Contact Jonathan Capriel at (813)225-3141 or email@example.com. Follow @jonathancapriel. Contact Charlie Frago at (727)893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.