PALM HARBOR (FOX 13) - The Pinellas County Sheriff detailed during a news conference Monday the series of events that led up to a violent crash that killed three teenagers in a stolen car over the weekend.
Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said the crimes actually started Thursday, when a Ford Explorer and Chrysler Sebring were stolen from a Clearwater dealership. Detectives believe early Sunday morning, six teens were driving around in the two vehicles and looking for unlocked cars to burglarize throughout Pinellas County.
According to investigators, the teens involved, ranging in ages from 14 to 18, have extensive criminal histories and have been arrested a combined 126 times. Most of them had just been released from the juvenile detention center this year.
A little after 4 a.m. Sunday, deputies spotted the two stolen cars driving together into the East Lake Woodlands neighborhood. The Sheriff's Office set up a perimeter but was initially unable to locate the vehicles. Shortly after, a deputy spotted both of them traveling on Tampa Road.
"The vehicles were engaged in what I'll characterize as a 'cat and mouse game.' They were accelerating fast, slowing down, accelerating, slowing down," Gualtieri has said. "They got to Lake St. George and at the intersection on Tampa Road, the Sebring slowed down considerably. The Explorer sped up considerably, probably at speeds that exceed well over 100 miles per hour."
At that point, Gualtieri said the deputy turned around and did not pursue the Explorer, which continued westbound at a high rate of speed. When the SUV got to the intersection of U.S. 19, it struck a car that was traveling northbound.
The impact of the crash caused the Explorer to go airborne, hit several parked cars, roll multiple times and catch fire. Three occupants were pronounced deceased at the scene. They were identified as 16-year-old Keontae Brown, 14-year-old Jimmie Goshey, Jr., and 16-year-old Dejarae Thomas.
A fourth juvenile was taken to the hospital with injuries. He was identified as 14-year-old Keondrae Brown.
Jimmie's stepmother said her stepson was a good kid who somehow fell in with the wrong crowd.
"It just breaks my heart that it had to come to this and it's just something senseless that just happened," said Renee Goshey. "I'm grieving for all the families that lost their loved ones in this incident."
The innocent driver who was behind the wheel when the Explorer crashed into his vehicle survived, and talked Monday about how bad he feels for the teens who died.
"It was just sad to know that three kids just died, teenagers, 14, 16-years-old," said Ricky Melendez, adding that he knows he could have died too. "It could have easily been me, so I was just very blessed that it wasn't me."
The stolen Sebring was later located in Clearwater and two suspects, 18-year-old Kamal Campbell and 16-year-old Deyon Kaigler, were taken into custody. Both were charged with grand theft auto and resisting arrest. A judge set Campbell's bond Monday at $25,000.
"This is unfortunately a continuation of the prolific and epidemic incidents of juveniles engaging in the deadly game of auto burglaries and auto thefts that we've been seeing for the last 18 months or so," Gualtieri said.