Three teen girls died early Thursday when a stolen car they were in crashed into a pond at a cemetery in St. Petersburg.
According to Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the stolen Honda sedan ended up in a pond in the Royal Palm Cemetery near Gandy Boulevard and Interstate 275 just before 4 a.m., according to Tampa Bay-area television station Bay News 9.
Gualtieri said the driver likely never saw the pond as they tried to elude deputies.
The sheriff said more information would be released pending notification of next of kin but did give a breakdown of what occurred before the crash:
The car, which did not have headlights on, was spotted at Drew Street and U.S. 19 early Thursday. Deputies did not pursue the vehicle but did recognize it as a reported stolen vehicle.
Gualtieri said an unmarked patrol car followed the stolen car and initially turned on emergency equipment, then turned it off, as the incident did not meet the criteria for a pursuit.
A short time later, another deputy spotted the car, and Gualtieri said the driver ran a red light on eastbound Gandy Boulevard, then accelerated along Frontage Road and into the entrance of the cemetery.
“(Possibly), they saw the lights of the interstate from the cemetery and thought they could reach it that way,” Gualtieri said after deputies, unmarked and marked, moved in behind the stolen car. “They went off the curved road straight and crashed into the pond.”
Two deputies at the scene tried to wade into the pond to assist the people in the car but could not reach it. Lined with muck and grass, the pond is about 15 feet deep, Gualtieri said.
“Once the car filled up with water, it went down pretty quickly,” Gualtieri said. “There was nothing deputies could do. As thick as that muck is in the pond, it is almost like a carpet. The doors were closed, the windows were up and unfortunately it just became a death chamber. They drowned, they just couldn’t get out.
The teens were lated identified as 16-year-old Dominique Battle, 15-year-old Ashaunti Butler and 15-year-old Laniya Miller.