ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – First-degree murder charges are being considered against the surviving teenagers of a fatal early Sunday morning fiery crash, a move Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri blames on the ‘revolving door’ of the state’s juvenile justice system and to help stem auto thefts in the county.
“It’s certainly become the thing to do,” Gualtieri said of the thefts during a Monday afternoon press conference. “It’s become a game. It’s something that spreads. It’s something they tell each other about. And it’s a consequences issue. If there’s no consequences, there’s no fear. And they don’t care about the few days they have to spend in (juvenile detention).”
Keontae Brown and Dejarae Thomas, both 16, and Jimmie Goshey, 14, were killed and Keondrae Brown, 14, was injured after the stolen 2015 Ford Explorer they were in crashed and engulfed in flames near U.S. 19 and Tampa Road while they were being pursued by a Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office deputy.
“It was an absolute mess,” Gualtieri said of the crash scene. “You couldn’t pull them out if you wanted to. When I first got there you couldn’t tell it was a car. There was no way to get them out of there.”
Kamal Campbell, 18, and Deyone Kaigler, 16, who were in a Chrysler Sebring that was “running in tandem” with the Explorer, are each charged with grand theft auto and resisting arrest without violence. Keondrae Brown, who was released from the hospital Monday after suffering a concussion, is also charged with grand theft auto.
Investigators are considering using a felony murder rule for the surviving teens, where if someone dies while a felony is being committed, then those involved can be charged with murder.
Multiple burglaries, then a fiery crash
A Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office deputy spotted the Explorer at a gas station at State Road 580 and Main Street in Dunedin at about 1 a.m. Sunday and recognized it as being stolen, Gualtieri said.
The vehicle fled when the deputy attempted to stop it, but didn’t pursue it due to a department policy of not chasing stolen vehicles, Gualtieri said.
After an argument where Dejarae Thomas pointed a handgun at Deyone Kaigler’s head over which vehicle he wanted to ride in, the teens smoked marijuana at Thomas’ home, then went to Safety Harbor and East Lake Woodlands to commit car burglaries, Gualtieri said.
Another deputy spotted the vehicles entering East Lake Woodlands at about 4 a.m. Other deputies responded to the scene, but the teens were able to elude authorities, Gualtieri said.
About 30 minutes later, another deputy saw the vehicles traveling southbound on the exit ramp of Tampa Road off East Lake Road. The deputy followed both vehicles but didn’t immediately initiate a traffic stop.
Both vehicles appeared to play “cat and mouse”, where one vehicle accelerated, then slowed down in front of the other, Gualtieri said.
When the deputy attempted to stop both vehicles, the Explorer sped up to between 120 – 140 mph, ran a red light and crashed into a vehicle driven by Ricky Melendez at U.S. 19 and Tampa Road, Gualtieri said.
The Explorer went airborne, hitting five cars parked at a nearby dealership before striking a huge pole “about 10 feet high in the air,” Gualtieri said. It then hit a few more cars before tumbling down Tampa Road and bursting into flames.
The driver, Keontae Brown, was ejected from the vehicle and died at the scene.
Dejarae Thomas, the front passenger, and Jimmie Goshey, who was seated behind Keontae Brown, were trapped in the burning vehicle. They also died at the scene.
“At the time Thomas was being removed from the crash, and from the Explorer, he still had gloves on his hands from committing the burglaries,” Gualtieri said, showing a picture of the gloves he had on during the press conference. “They fled so quickly from East Lake Woodlands, and they were going so fast that they didn’t even take their gloves off.”
Keondrae Brown, who was sitting behind the front passenger seat, was ejected through the front windshield. He suffered a concussion.
“The last thing he remembered was laying in the middle of the road covered in glass,” Gualtieri said.
Keondrae Brown was released from All Children’s Hospital on Monday and booked into the Pinellas Juvenile Assessment Center.
The Sebring continued traveling westbound on Tampa Road. Deputies didn’t pursue the vehicle, which was being followed by a PCSO helicopter.
The vehicle, driven by Kaigler, was trying to elude the helicopter by driving through Dunedin and North Clearwater, Gualtieri said. The vehicle was later found near Prince Phillip Street just west of Keene Road. Keigler and Campbell were apprehended after a foot pursuit.
“Kaigler was still wearing one glove when he was caught,” Gualtieri said.
Here's dashcam video from Sunday night:
‘A revolving door’
The six teenagers amassed 126 arrests between them, Gualtieri said.
Along with 19 arrests for grand theft auto and 39 for violating probation, the group also faced charges of aggravated assault with a weapon, firing a weapon in public, burglary of occupied dwelling, fleeing law enforcement, armed burglary and robbery with a weapon.
“All of these kids have been jailed at the juvenile detention center 43 times, with several of them being released a few days before this incident,” Gualtieri said.
Gualtieri highlighted a number of Facebook posts on Goshey and Thomas’ pages related to violence, drugs and stealing cars.
“It simply comes down to this, when there’s no consequence, no fear of consequences, you end up with kids 14, 15, 16-years-old that get arrested 126 times, 43 times in juvenile detention center, multiple arrests for violent crimes, and they just totally, totally could not have cared less,” Gualtieri said. “If they cared, they wouldn’t be posting this stuff the way they were. Again, the juvenile justice system is not working. There’s not enough consequence, and when there’s not enough consequence, there’s no fear of consequence. They don’t’ care. It doesn’t matter to them. It’s revolving door.”
System isn’t doing enough
Gualtieri described the situation as frustrating because three lives “were needlessly lost.”
“It’s frustrating because it’s an epidemic of what has been and continues to occur in Pinellas County,” said Gualtieri, referring to auto thefts. “It’s something the county has been plagued by for a couple of years.”
There were 1,124 auto thefts during the first six months of 2017, compared to 1,064 during the same time span in 2016.
PCSO, along with the Clearwater and St. Petersburg police departments, formed a violent crime task force that makes daily auto theft arrests, Gualtieri said. The sheriff’s office also monitors about 200 youth offenders throughout the county and has home case managers to help increase parental involvement.
All six teens were involved in some level of supervision by the sheriff’s office, Gualtieri said.
“We’re not going to solve this problem by arresting these kids,” he said. “The system is not providing enough consequences for these kids. This scenario repeats itself daily in Pinellas. The only difference is that they wrecked and are dead. But this is playing out every single day. It’s a game to them, but it’s a deadly game.”
Gualtieri said others have to step up in order to address the issue of teens and auto thefts.
“This has got to change,” he said. “Law enforcement can’t fix this. Parents, family members, caregivers, others need to step up and figure out why these kids are out at 3, 4 o’clock in the morning stealing cars. We’re doing all we can. And we’re working hard at it. But we need help and the community needs to step up. Something needs to be done and done differently.”
Below is the full press conference: