PANAMA CITY BEACH, Florida >> Two teenage sweethearts suspected in a crime spree of stolen vehicles and pilfered checks across the U.S. South have been taken into custody in Florida, Kentucky authorities said Sunday.
Grayson County Sheriff officials said in a statement that 18-year-old Dalton Hayes and his 13-year-old girlfriend, Cheyenne Phillips, were arrested without incident about 12:10 a.m. Sunday in Panama City Beach. The two had eluded police in multiple states while raising concern about their increasingly bold behavior.
Authorities said the U.S. Marshal’s Service and local law enforcement in Panama City Beach discovered Hayes and Phillips asleep in a 2001 Toyota Tundra that was stolen in Georgia. The vehicle was surrounded by law enforcement and both Hayes and Phillips were taken into custody. Authorities plan to extradite the pair back to Kentucky where they are expected to face felony charges.
According to Bay County jail records, Hayes was held Sunday on a charge of custodial interference. He is scheduled for a first court appearance at 8:30 a.m. Monday.
Florida’s Department of Children & Families was called to assist Panama City Beach Police, but Phillips was not in the state’s custody, said DaMonica Rivas, a DCF spokeswoman.
“The juvenile has been taken to a safe location until arrangements with the family are made,” Rivas said.
Hayes and Phillips began their run from the law and their families earlier this month when they vanished from their small hometown in western Kentucky. Authorities believe their travels took them to South Carolina and Georgia.
Hayes’ mother, Tammy Martin, had urged her son and his companion to surrender and “face the consequences.”
Martin said the couple had been dating for about three months. She said the girl portrayed herself as being 19, and the family, including Hayes, believed her.
Cheyenne “would go in and write checks, and she would come out with cigarettes and stuff, so I didn’t have any reason not to believe she wasn’t 19,” Martin said. “Because normally you can’t buy cigarettes when you’re 13 years old.
By the time her son realized she was a mere 13, “he was already done in love with her,” Martin said.
When he hit the road, Hayes was running away from trouble back home. He faces burglary and theft charges in his home county, stemming from an arrest late last year, according to Grayson County court records.
He was planning to be at the local judicial center on Jan. 5 to find out if a grand jury had indicted him on the charges, his mother said. His case did not come up, but by that time the teens were gone.
Norman Chaffins, sheriff in Grayson County, Kentucky, where the pair disappeared 14 days ago, said the couple’s behavior had become “increasingly brazen and dangerous.”
Twice, the teens were able to evade law officers in Kentucky, the sheriff said. They crashed the first truck they stole and hid in the woods. Then they later stole another truck nearby, Chaffins said.
At one point, the two were spotted at a Wal-Mart in South Carolina, where the teens are thought to have passed two stolen checks, said Manning, South Carolina, Police Chief Blair Shaffer.
Authorities believe they then headed to Georgia and stole a pickup truck from the driveway of a man’s home, about 30 miles southeast of Atlanta. The homeowner said he kept two handguns inside the vehicle that was stolen, Henry County police Lt. Joey Smith said.