Frustration and sadness were visible all over the face of Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri as he announced three teenage girls, in a stolen car, died while trying to run from police.
At a nearly hour long news conference, the sheriff pointed to hard statistics that teenagers are running rampant in the county with no sense of guilt for their actions and “no fear of the consequences.”
That boldness cost three teenage girls their lives early Thursday morning.
The teens, identified as 16-year-old Dominique Battle, 15-year-old Ashaunti Butler, and 15-year-old Laniya Miller crashed a stolen car into a pond and couldn't get out before all three drowned. Their lives were plagued with run-ins with the law, and arrests for serious violent felony charges.
All three had criminal histories which including grand theft auto. Combined they had seven grand theft auto charges against them in just the last year. Other charges included multiple crimes for burglary, and possession of marijuana.
“We have been plagued for over a year with excessive auto thefts being committed by young, primarily black young people,” Gualtieri said. “There were 2,779 cars reported stolen in Pinellas in 2015. Between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015 juveniles in Pinellas county were charged with 1733 felonies.”
Gualtieri said there has to be a change in the system to keep young black kids from committing these types of crimes. According to their statistics, nearly half of the auto thefts in 2015 were committed by young black juveniles.
“Kids stealing them are using them for joy riding committing, other crimes like drug deals, the armed robbery, and then just dumping the cars.”
Gualtieri said an auto theft task force between St. Petersburg and Tampa cut down on the number of juveniles stealing cars. But, once the operations slowed down, the crimes picked right back up.
“Law enforcement chasing these kids and arresting them is not solving a thing. The solutions need to come from deep within the community. Three dead teenagers is not acceptable,Gualtieri said.