In Pinellas County teens are crashing stolen cars every four days, on average. It’s a crime trend that’s forced law enforcement, legislators and the community to step up. Today, it takes the shape of a community youth program expo. All to show kids that there are other options.
The point is to expose kids to after school programs. Something they could spend their time and energy on that's positive and healthy. They believe this will simultaneously help curb the trend.
Eight Pinellas County teens have died in crashes involving stolen cars, in just the last two years. This past fall mangled metal was the only thing left in a joy ride that killed three teens dead in Palm Harbor. That car was stolen.
In November, a teen crashed into a car driven by a middle school teacher. The crash left the teacher's arm in a cast. That car was stolen.
Just two days ago police arrested four kids after a joyride that was caught on camera. You guessed it; that car was stolen.
“People are dying as a result of it," said U.S. representative Charlie Crist. "The level of concern couldn’t be any higher.”
Which is why the St. Petersburg representative took part in a panel to discuss solutions. Their ideas focused on giving kids stability, education and mentorship.They believe after-school programs could be key to ending these deadly games.
“I was thinking in the back of my head I knew this was bad," said 15-year-old Joshua Hobbs.
Hobbs has a personal connection to this mission. He’s never stolen a car. But he did steal a bicycle and police caught him.
“I got arrested for it. I went in… everything was bad," he said.
His mom was disappointed and anything but passive. She made him join the Arts Conservatory for Teens. It's a non-profit dedicated to improving the quality of life for youth through arts and education.
“I’ve changed everything. My grades, my whole focus. Everything has changed," he said.
Now he’s the one sitting behind the booth. Hobbs is helping other kids pick a brighter future.
“Being a good role model opens up more opportunities—job opportunities. You don’t have to go out. You can buy your own car," Hobbs said.
There is hope. Despite the trend that's put the county on the map. The data shows the number of cars stolen in St. Pete has gone down 10% year-to-year.