Today family and friends are mourning the deaths of Three teenage girls who died after crashing a car they stole into a St. Pete pond.
In the wake of those deaths, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and St. Pete Police Chief Anthony Holloway are trying to figure out how to stop teen car thefts. The sheriff called it an epidemic.
ABC Action News has reported on many of those cases.
Just two weeks ago six people including four teens were inside a stolen car that crashed into two officers in Pinellas County.
In February, a 13-year-old- crashed a stolen car into this brick wall at home in Pinellas Park. Now, there’s a call for tougher punishments.
“We’ve got to come up with some type of law that will hold these kids, because if they know they get arrested on Monday and they’ll just stay there for a couple of hours. They’re going to do it again,” said St. Pete Police Chief Anthony Holloway.
Teens stealing cars, committing robberies and running from cops.
Local law enforcement say its a dangerous combination that’s been plaguing Pinellas County for more than a year.
Sadly, Thursday’s deaths of 15-year-olds Ashaunti Butler and Laniya Miller and 16-year-old Dominique Battle are renewing efforts to stop the trend of teen car thefts.
“We have to draw a line at some point,” the chief said. “Three times is too many, two is too many. I’m not saying the child isn’t making a mistake, but now we’ve got to do something,” said Holloway.
Sheriff Gualtieri said the culprits behind a majority of the vehicle burglaries are teenagers from South St. Petersburg.
“Between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015 juveniles in Pinellas County were charged with 1,733 felonies,”
In 2015, there were 2,779 car thefts in Pinellas County.
54% of those cars were stolen in St. Pete.
The sheriff says of the cars stolen, 65% of those were found in back in St. Pete. The sheriff says thats proof teenagers are using the stolen cars for joy riding, committing other crimes and dumping them.
Friday, ABC Action News spoke with family and friends holding a car wash to help pay for the teens funeral expenses. Several people we spoke to said the change officers are trying to bring to south St. Pete isn’t working.
“They’re not doing anything for the kids, but chasing them and having them kill themselves,” said Lasha Cummings.
Deputies said they weren’t chasing the teens when they drove into the pond, and did everything they could to save them.
Within five minutes the stolen car they were in was in 15 feet of water.
Now the plan is to prevent future crimes by teaching teens about the consequences.
Lasha Cummings said that’s not what the kids need.
“You need to make more activities for them and give them jobs. You’ve got to go through so much just to get a job. Its just ridiculous,” she said.
Under this new plan the teens arrested will spend more time with Community Intervention Director Rev. Kenneth Irby.
He’s already met with families and is partnering with the city to offer programs for teen boys and girls to get them on the right track. “Through this program we focus on education, entrepreneurship, enrichment and second chances.”
But second chances can only go so far. Chief Holloway says after a kid is arrested for a third time he or one of his officers will be in court to see what punishment the judge decides.
While teens are to blame, adults are too; 85% of the cars stolen in Pinellas last year were unlocked.