ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Pinellas County leaders are desperate for solutions as a dangerous crime trend turns deadly again.
Two St. Petersburg teens are dead after crashing a stolen car into a tree on 38th Ave N. The 16 and 18-year-old boys are the 10th and 11th teens to die in Pinellas County after crashing stolen cars.
Florence Shiro lives near the area where the teens crashed just after 3:30 a.m. on Monday morning. She watched in horror as the car burst into flames less than a block from her home.
“There were flames all the way up to the electrical pole and I thought oh lord,” she lamented.
Detectives say 18-year-old Damari Milton and 16-year-old Dequante Lightsey were speeding in a stolen Mazda Miata when they hit the tree at 4957 38th Avenue North.
"I knew when I saw those flames it wasn’t good,” Shiro said while fighting back tears.
Both teens had a record stealing cars. Just four months earlier, Pinellas County Sheriff helicopter video shows Tarpon Springs police arresting Lightsey after he ran from a stolen car.
Senator Darryl Rouson is desperate to find answers to stop the dangerous crime trend.
“It’s horrendous, it’s horrific. It’s tragic. It has to stop,” he said while speaking with ABC Action News on video chat from Tallahassee.
In January, Rouson plans to launch a new $100,000 program to target at-risk youth for mentorship and job training. The program will work hand-in-hand with an organization for black lawyers called Fred G. Minnis Sr. Bar Association and the Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa.
“We must teach these kids. We must make them understand that stealing a car could get you killed,” Rouson elaborated. The Senator brought his own sons to the funerals of the three boys who died in another fiery stolen car crash in Palm Harbor.
"It takes more than just state leaders. It will take the community to solve this problem," Rouson added.
St. Petersburg Police Officers have investigated 636 stolen cars this year, versus a little over 800 by this time last year.
Yet Dewey Caruthers, who has researched the teen car theft epidemic for years, is wary of any progress.
“There is no doubt in my mind that this will happen again,” he explained, "Many of those young teens who steal cars 1, 2, 3 times face very few consequences.”
He says without tougher punishment, the dangerous trend will continue.
“It’s not worth it! I wish these kids would invest their energy into sports, education or something that they will get something out of," Shiro said with a sigh.
Pinellas County is also looking into a plan to add more resources to the HOME program, which assigns officers to stop in at the homes of teens caught stealing cars in order to make sure they’re staying out of trouble.