Mother disagrees with Pinellas sheriff over daughter's deadly accident

- The mother of one of the three teenagers killed when their car crashed into a pond in Pinellas County spoke publicly for the first time Monday, questioning the details of the investigation.

Deputies said Laniya Miller, Ashaunti Butler, both 15, and Dominique Battle, 16, stole a car March 31 from a man described as a "friend of a friend," and crashed into a ceremtery retention pond near Gandy Boulevard.

At a news conference Monday afternoon, Laniya's mother, Natasha Winkler, stood with her attorneys and called into question investigators' accounts of the events.

"Ask yourself: do the facts match what we've been told so far, or this, as I believe, a rush to judgment and quite possibly a smear campaign?" said Will Anderson, one of the lawyers.

The attorneys, however, would not explain what details about the investigation they believe are incorrect.

"We do have a working theory, but we're not prepared to talk about that right now," said attorney Michele Whitfield.

They also disagreed with the characterization of Laniya, who Sheriff Bob Gualtieri described after the incident as a criminal.

"Between these three teens, they were arrested seven times in the last year just for grand theft auto," the sheriff said that day.

"In the case of Laniyah Miller, she had no criminal convictions," Whitfield said. "She was accused of stealing a vehicle and those charges were dismissed."

The sheriff held his own news conference Monday evening in response.

Sheriff Gualtieri said he stands by his detectives' investigation, and cautioned the families to wait until all the evidence, such as toxicology and autopsy results, has been processed and can be released in a report. He says the case is still open.

The sheriff added he believes the fault lies solely with the three girls.

"The fact remains three girls, 15 and 16 years old, were out at 4 a.m. in stolen car running from police," he said. "Don't blame us. If someone has information, by all means bring it formward and we will throughly investigate it."

Gualtieri added Laniya's grand theft charge was dropped because the victim would not cooperate with authorities.

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