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Missing teens captured in Texas


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 3, 1998

Ending a dramatic high-speed chase, Texas authorities shot out the tires of a stolen minivan Thursday, capturing two young Hillsborough County men and the daughter of a missing Carrollwood woman.

By late Thursday, however, the arrests failed to answer the question that has dogged Hillsborough deputies for most of a week: Is 49-year-old Vicki Robinson still alive? "The most important thing now is that they interrogate them and find out where she is," Robinson's brother, Kirt Klug, said. "I think they must have left her somewhere in this area. I'm praying for the best."

Hillsborough investigators flew to Pecos County, Texas, to interview the daughter and her friends.

The daughter, Valessa, 15, had not been charged with a crime late Thursday and was being held at a juvenile home in Odessa, Texas.

Her boyfriend, Adam Davis, 19, and his friend, Jon Whispel, 19, were being held on a federal warrant for fleeing Florida, where they face charges of stealing Robinson's minivan and credit cards.

Robinson, a real estate agent and single parent, was last seen about 1:30 a.m. Saturday at her home at 4221 Cartnal Ave. when Valessa and several friends, including Davis and Whispel, spent time at the family's pool.

Both mother and daughter were reported missing Saturday when the mother missed work appointments and failed to keep a date with her boyfriend.

It became clear soon after that the 15-year-old was with Davis and Whispel. The teens were spotted at an Ybor City tattoo parlor and saw friends in Town 'N Country during the weekend.

On Monday, they were videotaped on a surveillance camera as they purchased cement at a hardware store before leaving town in Robinson's minivan.

Hillsborough investigators had alerted law enforcement agencies across the nation.

Authorities followed the trail of Robinson's 1994 Nissan Quest, tracing the teens through purchases made with her stolen credit cards. They visited Gulfport, Miss., and from there, traveled 908 miles along Interstate 10 into Texas.

The chase began about 12:30 p.m. local time Thursday near Fort Stockton, about 230 miles east of El Paso. Pecos County Sheriff Bruce Wilson and Deputy Larry Jackson spotted the minivan, outfitted with a stolen license tag, as it traveled east on I-10.

Wilson turned on his lights and sirens, but Davis refused to pull over and led them on a 100-mph chase past a road block that forced cars off the road. Six patrol cars followed for 9 miles.

"It became apparent they were going to hurt someone," Wilson said. "So I told my deputy to shoot out the tires. He's a pretty good aim."

Jackson blew out the back tires, sending the minivan spinning sideways and then backward on the interstate. In a cloud of dust, Davis stopped the van, turned around and took off again. Wilson stopped his car and Jackson shot out the right front tire as Davis drove by.

"We couldn't stop him," Wilson said. "We got back in the car and chased him again. We shot out the left front tire and the chase was over."

Nearly a dozen deputies, guns drawn, yelled to the teens to get out of the van. They were placed on the ground and handcuffed.

Davis and Whispel told Wilson they didn't know why they were being stopped.

Robinson's friends and relatives gathered Thursday.

Klug, her brother, said the waiting has been painful.

"This is tearing me up more and more with every day that goes by," Klug said. "This kind of thing happens in movies and TV shows. I never thought it could happen in real life."

With each passing hour, family members and friends find it more difficult to believe Robinson is alive. Robinson's oldest daughter, Michelle, 17, and ex-husband Chuck Robinson have kept in touch from their Missouri home.

The family plans a candlelight vigil in front of Robinson's home at 7:30 p.m. today.

"It is difficult to maintain hope, the same kind of hope we had in the initial days of the disappearance, but we are still very hopeful that she's in the area," said Robinson's cousin Charles Klug, a local attorney.

The woods near Robinson's Carrollwood Village home and Whispel's Town 'N Country home have been searched without any trace of Robinson. A search of her Carrollwood home has not turned up evidence.

Relatives said they knew Robinson was having problems with her daughter. The teen had run away several times.

"When she got to be a teenager, she started running around with the wrong crowd," Kirt Klug said. "In the last two years, she'd become aggressive, hateful, and we're hearing she was involved in drugs."

Although Robinson allowed her daughter to date Davis, she was planning to send Valessa away to school and hoped to get her counseling.

"I don't think that she would feel that her daughter would harm her, but in recent months, when she tried to discipline her, Valessa would make comments like, "Are you threatening me?"' Klug said. "She would tell her, "I know people that can take care of you."'

Richard Cunningham, who worked with Whispel at Winn-Dixie and Papa John's pizza, went to Sickles High School with Valessa and introduced her to Davis a year ago. They had been dating ever since and Valessa often talked about wanting to have a baby with her boyfriend.

Cunningham said he saw the trio Monday and couldn't fathom what happened.

"They were normal that day. Really normal," Cunningham said. "Valessa was really happy. She was cleaning the house. She kept getting mad at people tracking in mud."

Though Valessa talked about hating her mother, Cunningham said he thought it was no more than any other rebellious teen.

"No matter how much s--- she talked, she'd never, never do anything to hurt her mom that way."- Times researcher John Martin and staff writer Kathryn Wexler contributed to this report.

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