LAKE WALES, Fla. (WFLA) — A Lake Wales man who is facing several charges in connection with a multi-day crime spree told deputies he brought a child along with him at times because he was “trying to toughen him up,” according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
Polk County deputies arrested 36-year-old Ernest McKnight III on Thursday. McKnight is facing several charges from both the sheriff’s office and the Lake Wales Police Department for a “series of crimes over several days.” Deputies say an 8-year-old boy was with him while he allegedly committed some of the crimes.
According to deputies, the spree started when McKnight stole an empty, idling red Hyundai that was parked along State Road 60 near Central Avenue in Lake Wales on Saturday, Nov. 7. At the time, the driver was outside of the car doing surveying for construction.
Several days later, around 7 a.m. on Nov. 12, a man parked his car along County Road 653 near the Lake Ashton community to walk his dog. Deputies say the man saw McKnight rummaging through his SUV. McKnight then left the scene in the previously-stolen Hyundai, according to a public information officer for the sheriff’s office.
A few hours after the incident near Lake Ashton, authorities say a Lake Wales homeowner saw McKnight steal a package from their front porch. When the victim yelled at him to return the package, deputies say McKnight yelled “it’s mine now!” and left in the Hyundai.
Lake Wales police say they tried to pull McKnight over in the Hyundai but he refused to stop. The sheriff’s office aviation unit was able to find the car behind a home in the area of Rosalie Lake Road and Tupelo Lane near Lake Wales.
When asked why he had the 8-year-old with him, detectives say McKnight told them, “I was trying to toughen him up…I don’t want him to be soft.”
McKnight was arrested and deputies say the child was reunited with his family.
“Taking a child out with you while you committing felonies is not the proper way to create a positive influence,” Sheriff Grady Judd said in a statement. “I’m quite confident that there is not a child psychologist out there who would agree with this guy’s idea of proper activity for a child.”
The sheriff’s office charged McKnight with burglary of an occupied dwelling, burglary of an unoccupied dwelling, burglary of an unoccupied conveyance, grand theft motor vehicle, tampering with evidence, petit theft and three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He’s also facing traffic charges and a negligent child abuse charge from Lake Wales police.
According to the sheriff’s office, McKnight has a criminal history that includes time in prison in 2009 as well as charges for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, domestic violence, loitering and prowling, narcotics, resisting and theft.
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