As deputies debated the safety of carrying out the rescue of a stolen car from a Florida pond on March 31, three teenage girls drowned inside, according to news reports. Deputies deemed the rescue unsafe after wading into the water, but dashcam footage led the girls’ families to question how much the deputies did to save them.
Around 4 a.m. that morning, Fox News reports that a deputy saw a stolen 1998 Honda Accord driving near St. Petersburg without headlights on. While trying to evade the deputy, the driver reportedly missed a sharp turn and the car went into a pond, per Miami Herald.
The newest footage from the incident includes audio recording of the deputies’ conversation, with one voice saying pointing out the fact that he heard yelling. Later on, another voice says, “Now, they’re done. They’re done.” According to the Herald, a wrecker arrived two hours later. Here’s a video that has part of that conversation and a look at the murky pond:
According to reports, the deputies originally thought the girls escaped and ran away as the car sank in 15 feet of water.
After realizing the girls were inside, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said deputies went in the water and attempted to save the girls. Their feet sank upon entering the pond, and they deemed the rescue to be too risky. With windows rolled up and doors closed, Fox reports that the sheriff, Bob Gualtieri, said the car was a “death chamber.”
The Tampa Tribune reports that the three girls, identified as Dominique Battle, 16, Ashaunti Butler and Laniya Miller, both 15, had seven arrests on record for crimes that included vehicle thefts.
Lawyers representing the families of the girls claim that the accounts by the sheriff’s office are full of holes and a “smear campaign” against the girls due to discussions of their past records following their deaths. In response to claims of inconsistencies in the story, the office released more footage on their Facebook:
A message from the department accompanied footage, indicating that the department shared the video “with the hope that the false narrative being spread about this incident stops.” Here’s more from the post:
Unfortunately, some people are irresponsibly and falsely posting on Facebook that deputies did not attempt to rescue the 3 girls who tragically drowned while fleeing from the police in a stolen car a few weeks ago.
The sheriff stated at the time that deputies removed their gun belts and clothes and tried to enter the water to rescue the girls, but the conditions in the water prevented them from doing so. This is exactly what happened, and we stand by that.
All video regarding the incident has been released, including the below clip that shows deputies who had taken off their duty gear in an effort to rescue the girls. The other video being shown omits this part that shows deputies who had entered the water in their effort to rescue the girls.
According to the Herald, Gualtieri added that the video doesn’t show 15 deputies who later arrived on scene. He also said the families should not promote a “false narrative” about the situation, per the Herald.
But the girls’ families aren’t sure they have the full story, and Fox quoted one of their lawyers as saying they will be “asking for those answers to come.”