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Hot-car queen parks in jail now

A legend among teens and cops, a 19-year-old vows to retire her flat-head screwdriver.

By ABHI RAGHUNATHAN, Times Staff Writer
Published August 5, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - Courtney Lloyd can't remember the first time she stole a car.

It must have been more than three or four years ago, long before her first arrest for auto theft. She does remember being good at it and going on to steal more cars. A lot more, perhaps hundreds of them. She doesn't know how many exactly.

By her 18th birthday, Lloyd had a title to match her notoriety among the city's police and youth: "The Queen of Auto Theft."

Today, the Queen is 19 and her castle is a cell in the Pinellas County Jail. She faces charges related to auto theft and, for the first time, the possibility of a tough prison sentence. Her eyes open a little wider and her voice trembles slightly as she talks about her infamous reputation. She pauses to wipe away tears.

"I was young and it was something I wanted to try," Lloyd said in a jailhouse interview. "A lot of people were doing it. It's just something I got pulled into."

Lloyd is a rarity. Veteran St. Petersburg police detectives say they can recall just one other woman they have arrested on auto theft charges. More than four-fifths of auto thefts in the country are committed by males, according to national crime statistics.

Her exploits have been the talk of the city. Guys gave her money to steal hot rides. Other teenagers may have honed their skills by watching her. She can break into a car with a screwdriver and drive away in the time it takes most drivers to open a door and put a key in the ignition.

Now, as she faces a maximum sentence of 20 years, Lloyd regrets her choices. She wishes that the kids who used to look up to her would just look away.

But she admits this about stealing cars: "It's an addictive thing."

Interests take a turn

She was raised by her mother and big sister. She says her father was never around.

For a while, she went through adolescence and her early teenage years with normal hobbies. She played volleyball and basketball. She ran track.

But she went through several high schools until she got her GED. And several years ago -- she's not sure when, but maybe when she was 15 or 16 years old -- she started stealing cars.

At first, it was a ticket to popularity. She mostly hung around friends in the Jordan Park neighborhood. They cheered her on.

"It was my way of getting friends," Lloyd said. "I was good at it. ... It made me feel good to know there was something I was good at."

Then came the thrill of driving around in a stolen ride.

"It's the adrenaline," she said. "You get this rush. People don't know how addictive it is."

According to Florida Department of Law Enforcement records, Lloyd's first arrest for auto theft came in 2004. Detectives in the city's auto theft unit soon got to know her well. She was arrested nine more times, usually on auto theft charges.

Detective Tim Brown and Michael Gray, who both work in auto thefts, say Lloyd usually cooperated with them, offering details about her capers. Once said she stole a car because she was driving by and liked its shade of blue. Another time, she stole a counselor's car in Lake County, where she was in a program for offenders, and drove it to St. Petersburg.

Because she was a juvenile for most of those arrests, Lloyd didn't face serious jail time. Police say she didn't strip cars or take them to chop shops. Instead, she drove them until they ran out of gas and then dumped them.

"There's no rhyme or reason to why," Gray said.

Her reputation grew. Some kids would give her hundreds of dollars to steal a nice car with cool rims, she said. Her tool of choice was a flat-head screwdriver that she used to pry a car door open. Then, she used it to start the car up by jamming it in the ignition.

Not guilty, she says

Some kids steal a dozen or more cars a night. Most steal cars for joyriding, and dump them after a night or when they get bored. Brown says Lloyd fits that profile, and could be responsible for hundreds of thefts.

She says that other teenagers embellished stories about her. She says she's not guilty of the current charges she faces or other thefts blamed on her.

"Stealing cars. ... That's not something to be proud of," she said. "I disappointed my mom a lot."

She says now she wants to be a veterinary technician and work with animals. But getting a job is hard with a rap sheet as long as hers.

Last spring, Lloyd pleaded guilty to grand theft auto charges and faced a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. She got three years of probation.

She lasted less than one week on probation before being arrested again. She sped away from authorities before crashing a stolen Dodge Stratus. She told police that she "had nowhere to stay and nothing else to do."

"The probationer is 17 years old and is in DESPERATE need of a wake up call before her life spins totally out of control," a probation report said.

Brown, a detective who Lloyd says "really listens" to her, has tried to help her, she said. Lloyd told him once that she was finished with stealing cars.

"She said she was too old to still be involved," Brown said. "I said, 'Great, then I won't see you any more then.' "

But she was arrested again last month on three charges of grand theft auto, an auto burglary charge and a charge of resisting arrest without violence. Police say her latest escapades included stealing several cars, and fleeing one botched attempt in a stolen minivan.

Police say they are confident in their case, though Lloyd disputes them. This time, with a prior record, she could get jail time if convicted.

Doug Ellis, a prosecutor with the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, said authorities would be seeking incarceration for Lloyd. Under Florida sentencing rules, her prior record places her just beneath the threshold for which a jail sentence would be required.

Now, Lloyd says, she's really done. She has a teenage nephew and she doesn't want him to follow in her footsteps.

"It's really messed up my life," she said. "Jail's not a nice place. ... I'm grown up now."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at araghunathan@sptimes.com or 727 893-8472.