Several suspects arrested for car break-ins, including 15-year-old
WESLEY CHAPEL (FOX13) - A 15-year-old suspected car thief is in jail after leading authorities on a high speed chase Thursday and Pasco County detectives are hoping this arrest helps bring to an end a rash of car break-ins and thefts throughout Tampa Bay.
Undercover detectives were watching the Northwood Palms neighborhood in Wesley Chapel after several recent thefts.
Early Thursday morning, they spotted a car theft in progress on Breakers Drive, but when the suspects saw the deputies, they took off.
Deputies chased one of the vehicles, driven by the teenager, for nearly 50 miles: from Wesley Chapel, down I-75 to I-275, through Tampa and into St. Petersburg.
The 15-year-old crashed the stolen car at the intersection of Fairfield Avenue and 34th Street South. Deputies then tracked down several other adult suspects in Wesley Chapel.
"We have to send a clear message to these criminals that you're not going to get away with it," said Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco.
Nocco said detectives have been looking for a break in a string of auto-related crimes; there have been 35 car break-ins and seven vehicles stolen in the last two weeks.
"Those individuals are out there wreaking havoc in our community and now they're sitting behind some bars," he told FOX 13.
During that same two-week period, there have been more than 250 similar crimes in Pinellas County, investigated by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, St. Petersburg Police and Pinellas Park Police. There have also been several more in Hillsborough County.
The sheriff said investigators are trying to determine if there's a connection and whether they can track down more suspects.
"It just seems like it's been exploding right now in the Tampa Bay region with the auto burglaries and auto thefts," Nocco said. "It just seems like these individuals, somehow, are connecting, talking to each other, but going out throughout all the different neighborhoods in the whole Tampa Bay region."
Neighbors in Northwood Palms said they've been hit three separate days.
"It scares me that they're so reckless, that they keep coming back a few times in a week to the same neighborhood to keep trying to get into all these cars in here and keep this crime going," said Christopher Mira, who lives on Breakers Drive.
Mira's car was the one that a suspect had broken into early Thursday morning, setting off the car chase.
"Luckily we didn't have anything of value in the car because we had friends around the area that have had their cars broken into and even stolen," he said. "It's good that they got to them before they could steal a car last night."
"It's kind of scary. We thought it was done and over with," added Sherri Spaw, Mira's next door neighbor whose car was also the target of an attempted break-in. "We found my gas cap was open and then we searched around the car, we saw bigger fingerprints than mine. So they tried to get in the car but they were unsuccessful."
In most cases, criminals are targeting cars that are unlocked.
Sheriff Nocco said the 15-year-old who was arrested will be charged as an adult. Anyone with information about anyone else involved is asked to call authorities.