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Tearful teen who survived stolen SUV crash to be held in juvenile detention

Keondrae Brown makes his first appearance in a wheelchair with bandages on his head and hand while in front Judge Kathleen Hessinger at the Pinellas County Justice Center in St. Petersburg on Tuesday morning (08/08/17).  Brown survived the crash that killed his brother and two others when the stolen Ford Explorer they were in pinwheeling through the air down Tampa Road in Palm Harbor, bursting into flames on Sunday. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Keondrae Brown makes his first appearance in a wheelchair with bandages on his head and hand while in front Judge Kathleen Hessinger at the Pinellas County Justice Center in St. Petersburg on Tuesday morning (08/08/17). Brown survived the crash that killed his brother and two others when the stolen Ford Explorer they were in pinwheeling through the air down Tampa Road in Palm Harbor, bursting into flames on Sunday. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Aug. 9, 2017

LARGO — Slumped in a wheelchair in a corner of the courtroom, gauze wrapped around his head, wrist and hand, Keondrae Brown bobbed his head and began to cry.

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

The only survivor from a stolen car involved in a fiery crash that killed his brother and two friends early Sunday, Keondrae, 14, appeared before a judge for the first time Tuesday on a charge of grand theft auto.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Kathleen Hessinger ordered him held for the maximum 21 days in the Juvenile Detention Center.

The boy's family asked that he be released just long enough for them to handle services for his dead brother.

"Not at this point," Hessinger said.

She read from Keondrae's arrest report, but everyone there already knew the details. A black Ford Explorer, streaking across Tampa Road at more than 100 mph, driven by Keondrae's brother, 16-year-old Keontae. It collided with the sedan of a man driving to work before the SUV flew into the air, smashing cars in a lot on the side of the road, a billboard pole and tumbling across the pavement in flames.

Tuesday afternoon, authorities said, investigators finished analyzing information from the Explorer's crash data recorder. Two-and-a-half seconds before impact, it was travelling 117 mph, according to the sheriff. At impact it was going 112 mph.

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

Keondrae was thrown from the backseat through the windshield. When deputies arrived, they said, he was covered in glass, limp near his brother's body. Two other boys, 14-year-old Jimmie Goshey and 16-year-old Dejarae Thomas, were dead inside the mangled Explorer.

Paula Shea, a public defender, bent down in front of Keondrae's wheelchair and dabbed his eyes with tissues.

"He just turned 14 in April," she told the judge. "He's quite injured."

And: "He was with an older sibling that he was following."

Before a bailiff wheeled Keondrae out of the courtroom, Shea leaned toward him one more time. His face was swollen, his eyes dazed. He asked the lawyer to talk to the judge again. Was there any way that he could please get out before his 21 days was up? The judge said not today. The boy rolled his head back and closed his eyes.

Keondrae was released from a hospital Monday and was the last of three survivors to appear in court. On Monday, Deyon Kaigler, 16, and Kamal Campbell, 18, were charged with grand theft auto and resisting an officer. Deputies said they were in a stolen Chrysler Sebring, spotted committing burglaries and driving alongside the Ford Explorer just before the crash. Deyon and Kamal later told deputies they saw the fireball but fled to Clearwater, where they were captured after abandoning the Sebring.

PREVIOUS STORY: Teens in stolen car crash had 126 arrests; murder charges possible

Deyon was also ordered held for the maximum 21 days in the Juvenile Detention Center. Kamal, an adult, was held in the Pinellas County Jail on $25,000 bail.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has called the violent collision just the latest representation of the deadly auto theft epidemic in Pinellas County. The man hit by the Explorer, 29-year-old Ricky Melendez, went home Monday with an arm sling, a walking boot and internal bleeding.

The six teens had racked up 126 arrests between them before the crash. They had gone to the Juvenile Detention Center a combined 43 times.

"The problem is that these kids could have cared less about their crimes," the sheriff said. "They had no concern whatsoever about the juvenile justice system."

Gualtieri said Keondrae told investigators the Explorer reached speeds as high as 140 miles per hour shortly before the crash at the U.S. 19 intersection. Authorities said the SUV ran a red light, and the kids had turned off all its lights.

THE VICTIM: Ricky Melendez recalls horrific crash that killed three in stolen car

The two cars had been stolen Thursday from an auto dealership on Missouri Avenue in Clearwater.

Investigators are now considering felony murder charges against the three surviving teens, Gualtieri said, because they were committing burglaries together just before in the East Lake Woodlands. They fled after hearing a sheriff's helicopter, Gualtieri said, "in one continuous, uninterrupted sequence" before the boys died.

"If you're committing a felony and as a result somebody dies, then you're responsible," Gualtieri said.

Outside attorneys have told the Times authorities may have difficulty proving a murder case. Ultimately, the charges will be decided by the State Attorney's Office.

Keondrae's family declined to comment outside the courtroom.

VIGIL: Friends, family gather in Clearwater to remember teens who died in SUV crash

EDITORIAL: Another fatal crash, another call to fight car thefts

ROMANO: Before the stolen car you will likely find stolen dreams

THE KIDS: Six teens involved in stolen car crash have troubled histories

5 WAYS: Officials are trying to stop Pinellas teen car thieves

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

This is a developing story. Stay with tampabay.com for updates.

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