Three teenagers died in a fiery crash early Sunday after they sped through a red light in a car they stole in Palm Harbor, signaling a tragic state of affairs in Pinellas County’s ongoing teen car theft problem, as chronicled by the Tampa Bay Times months prior.
In a press conference Monday afternoon, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said it all started on Thursday when five car keys were stolen from Platinum Plus Auto Sales in Clearwater. A black Ford Explorer and a blue Chrysler Sebring were stolen.
Gualtieri said there’s one of three ways the car could have been found: parked in a public parking lot, abandoned or discovered in a crash.
A sheriff’s deputy spotted the Ford Explorer around 1 a.m. Sunday at a Dunedin gas station. Inside were the driver, Keontae Brown, 16, and three others: Keondrae Brown, 14; ; Jimmie Goshey, 14; and Dejarae Thomas, 16.
Around 2 a.m., the four met up at the home of 16-year-old Deyon Kaigler, then went to an apartment complex where stolen cars were stored, Gualtieri said. Thomas wanted Kaigler to drive the Explorer, but he wanted to drive the Sebring. Kaigler told police Thomas pulled a gun on him to end the argument, letting him drive the Sebring.
The group then drove to 18-year-old Kamal Campbell’s home to smoke marijuana, then filled up their tanks and took a drive in Safety Harbor and East Lake Woodlands to burglarize cars, Gualtieri said. Once they saw a helicopter fly overhead, they left the areas.
Another deputy spotted the two cars driving on Tampa Road at 4:30 a.m., and “appeared to be playing a cat-and-mouse game,” said Gualtieri. The cars would speed up and slow down in front of each other, but the deputy didn’t activate the cruiser’s lights.
There was a red light at U.S. 19 and Tampa Road, but Keontae Brown drove through the Ford Explorer at more than 100 mph without its lights on. The car smashed into a 29-year-old man headed to work in a 1999 Camry. The Explorer shot up into the air, hit several parked cars and ran into a billboard pole, igniting into a blaze.
Kenotae Brown was ejected from the car and died at the scene. Although first responders tried to put out the fire, Jimmie Goshey and Dejarae Thomas were trapped inside and died. Kenondrae Brown was ejected like his brother, but had only a concussion from being thrown through the front windshield, Gualtieri said.
The Sebring, driven by Kaigler, ran a red light going southbound on U.S. 19, but deputies did not pursue it, Gualtieri said. The car was found abandoned seven miles south of the crash site. Kaigler and Campbell were taken into custody.
The six teenagers are said to be “prolific offenders,” the sheriff’s office said. In total, they’ve been arrested 126 times, 39 of those times for violating probation. The charges ranged from car theft, robbery with a gun, battery, firing a weapon in public and burglary of an occupied dwelling.
Gualtieri said they got here by having “no fear of consequence.”
Brown faces a charge of grand theft auto and was transported to the Pinellas Juvenile Assessment Center. Kaigler and Campbell face one count of grand theft auto and one count of resisting arrest without violence. The investigation is ongoing.
“The juvenile justice system is not working,” he said.