Pinellas County Sheriff's Office
Helicopter footage shows Isaiah Battle fleeing from a stolen car.

Top car thieves all had

The Tampa Bay Times looked into the lives of the 14 juvenile auto theft offenders with the most arrests from January 2015 through June 2016 in Pinellas County. Reporters analyzed police and court records dating to the children’s births. The teen arrested most was Isaiah Battle. After Isaiah were 13 other boys, whose stories are told briefly below. The ages listed refer to their first grand theft auto arrest during this window; charges after they turned 18 were not counted. The Times is not naming the teens because these anecdotes focus on their lives as victims — some of physical or sexual abuse — and circumstances that were often beyond their control. During these difficult childhoods, many were involved in lesser gateway crimes before they stole cars, warning signs that they were on the wrong path.

6 arrests ■ 15-year-old ■ male ■ black ■ St. Petersburg

When he’s 6, his mom throws a knife at his stepdad for leaving the kids alone while he went to drink a beer. They face eviction at least three times. He first becomes a suspect at age 11 over a broken fence in Roser Park. By 15 he is posting on Facebook that he’s “slidin’,” slang for riding in stolen cars. Two months later, he is arrested for grand theft auto. Later in 2015, a Snapchat video shows him in another stolen car, this one involved in a drive-by shooting. Five months later, he is arrested for possessing a gun in connection to the murder of another car thief. His mom tells the courts his stepfather emotionally abused him and physically attacked him.

6 arrests ■ 14-year-old ■ male ■ black ■ Clearwater

A neighbor spots him and his brother smashing a stolen tricycle into the ground when he is 8. An officer doesn’t arrest them, saying they were playing. He’s 12 when his mom tells police the boys won’t do their chores. The next year, he is accused of shoving a school monitor and calling him a “f-----.” He is arrested after hitting another teacher a month later. At 14, he’s car-hopping, looking for unlocked doors and the keys to drive away. He calls himself a “roadrunna” on Facebook.

6 arrests ■ 15-year-old ■ male ■ Asian ■ St. Petersburg

When he is 3, his dad gets sentenced to 30 years in prison for attempted murder. His mom is addicted to drugs, suicidal, in and out of the psychiatric ward. He goes to live with his great-aunt. At 14, he is seen running from a suspicious vehicle. The next year, police hear a car alarm and find him with keys to a nearby car. He is handcuffed in his first grand theft auto arrest less than three months later, on Christmas Eve.

6 arrests ■ 17-year-old ■ male ■ black ■ St. Petersburg

A child protective investigator visits when he is 7; his parents left him and his four siblings, all younger than 10, home alone. He is 11 when his neighbor punches him in the head. He says he didn’t fight back because he didn’t want to get in trouble with his mom. At 17, he tells police he is hungry, looking for money to buy food, when he tries to break into a pickup. He is carrying a corkscrew knife. Police find him sleeping in a Ford Explorer behind an abandoned house a few months later. He claims he doesn’t know it was stolen. He gets off this time, but is arrested for grand theft auto two weeks later.

6 arrests ■ 15-year-old ■ male ■ black ■ St. Petersburg

Police go to his house when he is 7 for a call that his dad threatened his 13-year-old stepbrother with a machete. His father says his stepbrother was on top of the boy, hurting him, and that’s why he made the threat. He fights with another boy on the school bus when he is 10. At 14, he refuses to go to school because he doesn’t like his clothes. Within a year, he is caught with friends in a stolen car. Officers find crack cocaine in the center console. Another time, he laughs and looks insulted when deputies ask him about a stolen Kia. “Do I look like I would mess with a Kia?” he asks. At 16, he is is sentenced to four years in prison for burglary and grand theft auto.

5 arrests ■ 13-year-old ■ male ■ black ■ St. Petersburg

He is 6 when another woman, mistaking his mother for a romantic rival, tries to run over the both of them with her car, his mom tells police. Less than a year later, a man chokes his pregnant mother. By 9 he has been diagnosed with a behavior disorder and tries to take his mother’s car when she asks questions about his report card. Police have to break the window to get him out. He runs away all the time. At 11 he steals a wallet, then tries to steal a gun. He takes at least two cars before he turns 12. He is repeatedly taken into custody under the Baker Act, and says that he wants to kill himself, “that no one listens to him, and that all people do is talk, and when he tries to talk they talk over him.”

5 arrests ■ 16-year-old ■ male ■ black ■ St. Petersburg

Neighbors point the finger at him and his siblings after an empty house is vandalized; someone smeared feces on the wall to spell "FU." He is 6, and his mom says her children are innocent. He and his friends are playing football two years later when a 22-year-old man stuffs Spanish moss down their boxer shorts. By the sixth grade he's cutting school, getting caught by police at the St. Pete Pier. He is arrested on a vehicle burglary charge not long after he turns 13. He tells police he’s been a gang member since he was 4 years old. He gets in fights and breaks into more cars. Soon he’s driving off in them. At 17, he is sentenced to 22 months in prison.

5 arrests ■ 16-year-old ■ male ■ black ■ Clearwater

He is a gang member by 15, part of the "Betty Lane Boyz.” He comes down to Clearwater from his home in Pasco County. He and a friend are spotted looking into a Ford Mustang; he tells police they were just checking it out, wondering why anyone would buy a two-seater. At 16, he’s taking cars, several in just a couple months. He shoves a woman to the ground while stealing her car, and flees from police. He gets seven years in prison for carjacking.

5 arrests ■ 13-year-old ■ male ■ black ■ St. Petersburg

He is 1, resting in his father’s arms on a bicycle, the first time police come. His dad says the boy’s mother and her friend nearly ran them over in a car. Child protective investigators visit after his seventh birthday, noting that though the yard is littered with trash and the screens are torn, the kids seem well-fed. There’s no running water at the house, but his mom says they actually stay up the street. He’s 11 the first time he’s arrested, for stealing a bicycle. By 13, he’s onto cars, cuffed again and again. He targets downtown parking garages around Beach Drive.

5 arrests ■ 15-year-old ■ male ■ black ■ Clearwater

His parents argue over paternity, and he goes to live with his aunt. His father goes to prison for possession of cocaine. He takes a bike when he is 14 and tells police he just didn’t want to walk home. At 15, he tries to steal boat shoes from Macy’s. He and his friends jump another boy at the Juvenile Assessment Center. He balls his fist like he is going to hit a deputy. He breaks curfew and steals sedans. He and his friends are labeled gang members by police; they call themselves the “Wick Life Goons.”

5 arrests ■ 15-year-old ■ male ■ white ■ St. Petersburg

By the time he’s 15, he’s at an alternative school and friends with a lot of auto thieves. Police catch him stealing cars and driving recklessly. He smokes marijuana. When he gives a fake name, the cops find him out through his fingerprints. He is connected to cars taken from all over ― Dunedin, Hillsborough County, Treasure Island. He says he bought a Chevrolet Camaro for $20; he tells officers it was a good deal.

5 arrests ■ 15-year-old ■ male ■ black ■ Clearwater

He and his brother are both well-known to the local police. When he’s 13, the two kids fight and their mom calls authorities. Her sons leave before officers arrive. The family lives for a while at an extended stay motel but bounces around. Investigators find his fingerprints on a stolen Chevy Malibu. He and his brother are sent to a homeless shelter, but he runs away five days later. He is 15 the first time he’s arrested for grand theft auto. He tells police he typically acts as a lookout.

5 arrests ■ 14-year-old ■ male ■ black ■ St. Petersburg

He is 7 years old when someone reports that he and his sister are showing up to school in dirty clothes. Child protective investigators deem the claim untrue. A year later, he is suspected of shooting two teenagers with a BB gun. He's arrested after yelling curse words during class when he's 12. He takes his grandmother’s car, and she tells officers he’s hanging out with the wrong crowd. He is accused of carjacking and more auto thefts. He laughs when police arrest him and brags that he is a good driver who never crashes.