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When the car comes back, but the thief keeps the key

Lakesha Johnson's car was stolen twice by teenagers. The first time, she said, they got her key from her unlocked car while she slept after a chemotherapy treatment.

 [Courtesy of Lakesha Johnson ]
Published Apr. 25, 2017

It's bad luck to have your car stolen once. But a handful of drivers across Tampa Bay have been repeat victims. Their cars were recovered, but not the keys. So young thieves came back for another joyride.

One St. Petersburg woman had just gotten her car back when it was taken again two days later, still coated in black fingerprint powder.

When police recovered a car stolen from a hospice patient, the 15-year-old suspect laughed and said, "There's about six more (spare keys) out in the streets."

Then, there was Lakesha Johnson, 31, who said she was so exhausted from her chemotherapy treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma that she forgot to lock her black Infiniti SUV. She left behind a spare fob, one she thought would never work because the remote battery was dead. She didn't know about the hard ignition key hidden inside the plastic.

When she awoke from a nap and looked outside, "I thought it was a dream," she said. "I closed the door. I opened the door again. And I'm like, my truck is gone."

The Infiniti was the first car she was proud to own. She liked the curved hood, sunroof and leather seats.

Police found the car intact later that night. The kids ran, Johnson recalled, and officers didn't recover the key. Her dealership was closed, she said, so she couldn't get the locks changed right away.

Instead, she brought the Infiniti home, blocking it in with a neighbor's car. But the kids came back, used her SUV to push the other car out of the way and drove off.

Her car was gone again.

The Infiniti was missing for a week. Police told Johnson they spotted it, she said, but it fled at high speeds. Toll invoices piled up from someone else's trips over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

She said she spent hundreds of dollars each week for a rental car to get to chemotherapy. She rode around looking for her SUV but never saw it.

Police eventually caught up to the Infiniti after a crash in Largo. It was totaled.

Gap insurance covered the cost of a new Nissan, she said, but the car is no Infiniti.

She still remembers the way the 17-year-old looked at her in court, like it didn't matter.

"That little boy was looking at me like, 'What's she looking at?'"

Contact Zachary T. Sampson at zsampson@tampabay.com. Contact Lisa Gartner at lgartner@tampabay.com.

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