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Car Theft Ends With Death Of 3 St. Petersburg Teen Girls

Authorities say three teenage girls have been found dead inside a car they stole after driving into a pond while fleeing sheriff's deputies in Florida.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said the driver apparently missed a sharp turn near the Royal Palm Cemetery in St. Petersburg and went into the water early Thursday morning.

Investigators have identified the girls as 15-year-old Laniya Miller, 15-year-old Ashaunti Butler and 16-year-old Dominique Battle. It wasn't immediately clear who was driving.

"Sadly, I think that car became a death chamber for those girls,” Gualtieri said.

He said a deputy spotted the car driving without headlights and tried to stop it. The driver fled, eventually running a red light.

The vehicle continued until it reached Gandy Boulevard and Frontage Road, where it went into the cemetery. The car then proceeded to the back of the cemetery and into the pond.

“That car hit the water, it drifted out. Because they're young, they didn't think, they didn't open the doors,” Gualtieri said. “If you don't open those doors right away, you're never opening them once that car gets in the water, and they didn't roll the windows down. If they had rolled the windows down, it would be a different situation.”


The conditions were dark, and Gualtieri said the driver may have thought she could exit onto the highway.

He said the pond's water was so murky that the car had to be found by the Sheriff's Dive Team, which found the car in 15 feet of water.

The sheriff called the number of auto thefts by youths from the area of South St. Petersburg “an epidemic.”

"Solutions need to come deep from within the community. Kids need to know there are consequences. This is a systematic and complex problem," Gualtieri said.  "Three dead teenagers is not acceptable.”

Lottie Watts is our Florida Mattersproducer, and she also covers health and health policy for.
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