Three Florida teens allegedly stole a car on Wednesday, and on Thursday at around 4 a.m. drove it into a pond inside of a cemetery while trying to evade sheriff’s deputies. The girls were found dead inside of the vehicle after deputies attempted a rescue. They were apparently trapped inside after the vehicle was submerged. Deputies witnessed the car drive into the pond at a speed of approximately 35 mph.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri summarized the circumstances of the girls’ deaths at a news conference later on Thursday.
“That car became a death chamber for those girls.”
According to AOL News, the victims have been identified as Dominique Battle, 16; Ashaunti Butler, 15; and Laniya Miller, 15. All of the teens had arrest records, most for grand theft auto. Between them they had seven arrests in total.
WFLA writes that the Honda was stolen in St. Petersburg around 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday night. Deputies later spotted the car running a red light off U.S. 19 onto Gandy Road. They followed the vehicle to the cemetery where the girls plowed it into the pond. Law enforcement officers jumped in to try and rescue the suspects but were unable to locate them due to the murkiness of the water. A tow truck retrieved the vehicle approximately two hours later.
Sheriff Gualtieri described the scene.
“With the water and the thickness and with the windows being closed, unfortunately it just became a death chamber. They just drowned and they couldn’t get out.”
The car’s owner told police that a friend borrowed the vehicle on Wednesday to take the girls to the park. On the way, the friend stopped at a local Walmart to purchase a television. He left the car running while he went inside and when he returned to the vehicle the girls had driven off.
This is so sad: 3 teenage girls die in FL after stealing a car & crashing it into a pond. https://t.co/1kiqDwM0zA— Benjamin M. (@BenjaminM1019) April 2, 2016
Gualtieri said during the press conference that not much is known about what the girls were doing in between the time that they stole the vehicle and when it was first spotted near the cemetery.
“We don’t know what the girls did or where they were between about 8:30 last night, when they stole the car and when our Sergeant saw them on Sunset Point Road about 3:30 this morning. All three have criminal history for grand theft auto.”
When police later sighted the vehicle in the early hours of the morning, the girls were driving it with the lights off. The deputies decided not to give pursuit when they could not get the driver to pull over as it is against departmental policy to actively pursue a nonviolent offender. Police also never turned on their emergency lights.
Still later the deputies spotted the car again inside the cemetery. They followed but did not give chase. That is when the girls crashed the vehicle into the pond.
Sheriff Gualtieri told CBS News that he believes that the driver missed a sharp turn near the cemetery as she was attempting to flee his deputies, and that is how she ended up putting the vehicle into the water.
Stolen Car Crash Kills Three Teens: The dead are all girls with long criminal records. https://t.co/AERVAcSi6V (LN)— Newsradio 102.5 WFLA (@Newsradio1025) April 2, 2016
The sheriff hopes that other teens will take a lesson from the tragic deaths of the three young girls.
“They need to know that there are consequences for their actions. They need to know that you can’t get arrested four and five times in a year in auto theft and get away with it. This is a systemic and complicated problem and unless we do something differently, we’ll continue to see more lives lost.”
Sheriff Gualtieri also indicated that juvenile crime has dramatically increased in St. Petersburg over the last few years with incidents of grand theft auto becoming particularly troublesome.
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