ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — A teenager is dead and two others are injured after a stolen vehicle crash at a Winn Dixie in St. Petersburg Sunday morning, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said.
In a Sunday morning press conference, Gualtieri said the sheriff’s office was responding to an unrelated burglary call at around 3:20 a.m. on 58th Avenue North when a Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office helicopter pilot spotted the three teenagers walking east on 62nd Avenue North from the air.
Believing the teenagers to be suspicious, the pilot asked for ground units to investigate what they were up to.
Gualtieri said while deputies were on the way, the teenagers got into a Maserati at the intersection of 62nd Avenue North and 28th Street.
One of the teens used his shirt to open to the car door to keep from getting his prints on the car and found that the owner of the vehicle left it unlocked with the keys still inside, the sheriff said.
“We talk about this all the time,” he said. “People really need to lock their car doors and don’t leave your keys in the car, but they do. And when these kids are out in the middle of the night and they’re stealing cars and breaking into cars, that’s what they’re looking for.”
Gualtieri said the three teens then left the driveway with the lights off and drove east on 62nd Avenue North, only to be spotted by the PCSO air unit.
Ground units followed the car and turned on their emergency lights, but the deputies did not pursue the teens due to their policy of not following stolen cars.
However, the sheriff said the teenagers continued to drive at a high speed without their lights on until the driver of the vehicle lost control, hit the curb, ran across a business sign, and flipped the car. The vehicle suffered heavy damage, appearing to have been slightly folded by the impact.
“These are young kids,” Gualtieri said. “They’re inexperienced drivers, no driver’s licenses, driving 3:30 in the morning, 80 mph.”
The front seat passenger, 15-year-old Mario Bonilla, died at the scene of the crash.
The backseat passenger, a 16-year-old boy, suffered life-threatening injuries and is not expected to make it, according to the sheriff. The 15-year-old driver suffered critical but non-life-threatening injuries.
Gualtieri said the minors did not have an actual criminal history, but on Sept. 11, the three teens were stopped by a Kenneth City police officer when they were seen walking in a residential area at 4 a.m. while wearing black clothes and face coverings.
The incident was documented, but the teens were allowed to go home with their parents, according to the sheriff.
Gualtieri said judging from what the parents said during Sunday’s investigation, the children were supposed to be home but snuck out. He said the parents noticed concerning behavior in their boys and tried to address it before things finally took a deadly turn.
“One of the kids shared a room with a younger sibling, and from what I understand from the deputies talking to the parents this morning is that the younger sibling didn’t even know he left,” Gualtieri said. “You gotta feel for these parents because they know the issues you got with 15, 16-year-old kids. They’re trying to do something about it, trying to be aware of it, and the kid sneaks out.”
“Sometimes bad things are going to happen,” he added.