Advertisement
  1. St. Petersburg

A pedestrian killed. A sergeant injured. Stolen cars still haunt St. Petersburg.

St. Petersburg police Chief Tony Holloway in a 2014 photo. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times]
Published Jul. 24

ST. PETERSBURG — After reported stolen vehicles killed a pedestrian and injured a police sergeant this week, St. Petersburg police Chief Tony Holloway expressed his frustration with the persistent and dangerous problem of teen-fueled auto thefts. He also made this grim prediction:

"It's going to happen again," the chief said at a Tuesday news conference.

The latest incident took place Monday night. A 15-year-old driving a stolen Camry sped north on Seventh Street S, ran the stop sign at 18th Avenue S and collided with a St. Petersburg police vehicle. A sergeant and three occupants of the Camry were all taken to the hospital with minor injuries. A fourth person fled but was later captured.

The 15-year-old driver, police said, was arrested on outstanding warrants. Charges related to the crash are pending. Police did not release the names of anyone involved in the crash.

HOT WHEELS: Read the 2017 Tampa Bay Times investigation into Pinellas' stolen car epidemic.

That crash took place after a pedestrian was killed at about 12:28 a.m. Monday by a speeding, stolen car, police said. Phelexis Jakara Robinson, 26, was fatally injured after being hit by a stolen Infiniti sedan.

The Infiniti was headed south on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street S when it struck Robinson near 34th Avenue S. Robinson's car had just broken down and she was in the roadway when she was struck, police said. The Infiniti was found abandoned at 37th Avenue S. No suspects have been identified in that case.

Those two stolen vehicle crashes belie the statistics released by police that show reported auto thefts have dropped by 51 percent over the past four years. There were 1,523 thefts reported in 2015 and just 746 reported in 2018.

But the problem is more complicated than that in Pinellas County. In 2017 a Tampa Bay Times investigation found that the county had a larger rate of juveniles arrested for grand theft auto then any other major Florida county over the past decade. Those thieves were young, reckless and prolific, getting arrested again and again for the same offenses.

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

In March, then-15-year-old Keondrae Brown was arrested after the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said he and another teen ran from deputies in a stolen vehicle, then ditched it and tried to run. He was 14 when he was the lone survivor of the fiery wreck of a stolen SUV that killed his 16-year-old brother and two friends in 2017.

Police have attempted to crack down on those thieves by closely monitoring repeat offenders. But the problem continues to persist, the chief said. Holloway noted that many thieves appear to be moving north and stealing vehicles out of Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties.

"It's very concerning to me because the trend is going down, but kids are still stealing these cars and people are still getting hurt," Holloway said. "How do we keep getting our message across?"

THE LATEST: At 14 he survived a stolen SUV crash that killed three. At 15 he stole again, deputies say.

The chief challenged parents: "It's 10 p.m., do you know where your child is? Because your child could be out there tonight looking for a car and get involved in an accident and they could kill someone."

He also admonished car owners who leave their fobs inside unlocked vehicles. That just makes it too easy for teens to steal. In one week in August 2018, Holloway said 17 auto thefts were reported in the city — and in 16 of those cases the owners reported leaving their keys inside the vehicles.

"These kids walk through the neighborhood, they try the car doors, and if the car has a push start, they press the button and see if it works," Holloway said. "It's that simple."

The chief added: "Maybe we hold the parents accountable and maybe we hold the car owner accountable for leaving that key fob in the car ... it's 10 p.m., do you know where your key fob is?"

The chief also pleaded with teens to recognize the risks they take when they steal cars they don't even know how to drive.

"My message to a kid tonight is, do you really value your life? Because a lot of them don't," he said. "They're driving these cars at 70 and 80 mph, running stop signs and they do not know what that vehicle can and cannot do.

"They're very fortunate (to survive), because we've lost a lot of kids."

Contact Aaron Holmes at aholmes@tampabay.com. Follow @aaronpholmes. Contact Daniel Figueroa IV at dfigueroa@tampabay.com. Follow @danuscripts.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Dr. James Quintessenza, left, will return as the head of the Johns Hopkins All Children's heart surgery program department. UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY HOSPITAL  |  Times
    The heart surgery program’s mortality rate spiked after the surgeon left, a 2018 Times investigation revealed.
  2. Former NFL running back Warrick Dunn spends time with new homeowner LaToya Reedy and her son, AnTrez, at 918 43rd St. S. SCOTT KEELER  |  Times
    The retired Tampa Bay Buccaneer running back partnered with Habitat for Humanity and others to give a hardworking nursing assistant and her son the home of their dreams.
  3. The traffic signal for eastbound traffic on Drew Street at McMullen-Booth Road in Clearwater. Image by Archive
    A reader wonders why the sign at the end of Bayside Bridge instructs trucks heading north to exit during specified hours rather than stay on the bridge.
  4. James Dailey, 73, is set to be executed on Nov. 7 for the 1985 murder of 14-year-old Shelly Boggio. Left: Dailey at his 1987 trial, where he was convicted and sentenced to death. Middle: Dailey in 1993, when he was again sentenced to die. Right: The most current photo of Dailey on Florida's Death Row. Tampa Bay Times
    James Dailey’s execution remains set for Nov. 7. On Monday, a judge denied efforts to overturn his death sentence after a former prosecutor testified.
  5. Investigators are collecting evidence at the scene of a fatal stabbing on the 4000 block of 68th Street N. The victim was trying to break into a house, the Sheriff's Office said. KATHRYN VARN   |   TIMES  |  Kathryn Varn
    The dead man had sneaked out of a group home a block away. It’s unlikely charges will be filed, the Sheriff’s Office said.
  6. Archie is available for adoption for free. FRIENDS OF STRAYS ANIMAL SHELTER  |  Friends of Strays Animal Shelter
    The 4-year-old cat is available for adoption for free.
  7.  Designed by Tara McCarty
    And more Pinellas news
  8. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. TMCCARTY  |  times staff
    The death was reported early Monday and doesn’t appear suspicious, the agency said.
  9. The Pinellas School Board recognized James Krull as the district's bus Driver of the Year at its meeting Tuesday. From left are board members Bill Dudley, Eileen Long, Carol Cook, Rene Flowers, Krull, and board members Nicole Carr, Joanne Lentino and Lisa Cane. Pinellas County Schools
    News and notes about K-12 schools and colleges in Pinellas County.
  10. A dinner guest at the Maritana Grille at the Don Cesar Hotel contends in a lawsuit filed Friday that she was seriously injured when a waiter poured some of the liquid nitrogen that he was using to prepare a dessert at an adjacent table into her water glass and she drank it. (Times file photo)
    Stacey Wagers contends she was injured while dining at the Maritana Grille last year.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement