Blake High students charged in crime wave
By KEVIN GRAHAM
Published April 12, 2007
TAMPA - A Blake High School football player led three schoolmates on a violent crime wave in recent weeks, pointing guns at victims and spraying them with pepper spray during robberies, Tampa police said Wednesday.
Investigators said the teens confessed after being shown evidence, including video of at least one of the robberies. No one was seriously injured in the incidents, which occurred from March 27 to April 6.
The teens robbed at least five businesses, but got away with a total of $1,000, authorities said.
Police charged Vernon J. Hobbs, 18, of 2117 Cherry St., with four counts of armed robbery and one count of attempted armed robbery. Detective Sal Augeri said Hobbs seemed to be the leader of the group. He is a junior at Blake and was a player on the football team this year.
Sean Washington, the Blake football coach, called Hobbs one of the team's brightest stars. He garnered a 3-inch stack of recruiting letters from top college football programs.
"I'd like for him to have the opportunity to redeem himself," Washington said. "I think he's one of the ones we can save."
Sophomore Aramis S. Edwards, 18, of 4610 N Armenia Ave., Apt. 910, was charged with two counts of armed robbery and one county of attempted robbery.
Sophomore Eduardo R. Godfrey, 17, of 8405 N Garrison, and junior Keevaughn D. Sheggog, 16, of 1313 W Chestnut St., were each charged with one count of armed robbery.
A tip about the getaway car led detectives to the teens, along with their MySpace.com pages, where investigators found a photo of a mask used in one robbery. Also on the Web site: a picture of Edwards posing with a semiautomatic gun thought to have been used in the crimes.
Police said a conviction on robberies involving a firearm carries a 10-year mandatory sentence for each count.
"This is so far-fetched and out of the norm for my son," said Hobbs' mother, Tanice Hobbs.
Stephen Hegarty, a spokesman for the Hillsborough County School District, said the four teens will not return to Blake because of the seriousness of the charges. If they return to the public school system, he said, they would likely end up at an alternative school.
Detectives are waiting to see whether Edwards will be charged as an adult. He turned 18 last week but was taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center with Godfrey and Sheggog because they were minors when they allegedly committed the crimes.
All of the teens have prior criminal records for offenses that include petty theft and battery, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Here's what police said happened in the robberies:
On March 27, Hobbs and Edwards walked into the KFC/Taco Bell/Pizza Hut at 1605 W Kennedy Blvd., armed with pepper spray and guns. When employees couldn't open the safe, they sprayed them with pepper spray and fled. Augeri said Hobbs and Edwards confessed to the robbery.
Augeri said Hobbs and Edwards also confessed to walking into a Metro PCS at 4305 N Armenia Ave. on the same day and ordering the manager to hand over money. They sprayed the manager with mace and left, later splitting the stolen cash.
Authorities said Hobbs returned to the same Metro PCS the next day, on March 28. This time, his accomplice was Sheggog.
Also that day, detectives said Hobbs and Edwards demanded money from the Hello Cellular store at 6804 N Armenia Ave.
The final robbery in their 10-day crime wave happened last Friday, when police say Hobbs and Godfrey robbed the Wendy's at 1615 W Kennedy Blvd. while wearing skeleton masks.
"You look at the potential they had vs. what they're looking at now," Augeri said of the teens. "It's very disheartening. It all goes down the drain."
Washington, the coach, said Hobbs was trying to improve his grades just before the arrest. Last week, he asked Washington to help him get a math tutor.
Early Tuesday, just before the teens' arrest, Washington checked to make sure Hobbs was in his first-period algebra class.
"He was smiling and laughing, just like he always is," Washington said.
Times researcher John Martin, photographer Melissa Lyttle and staff writer Michael A. Mohammed contributed to this story. Kevin Graham can be reached at 813 226-3433 or firstname.lastname@example.org