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13-year-old boy in deadly Florissant crash took relative's SUV without permission

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UPDATED at 7:45 a.m. Thursday with makeshift memorial at scene

CLAYTON — The 13-year-old driver who crashed into a tree in Florissant, killing three young boys this week, had taken a relative’s SUV without permission — a vehicle that used to be a Hillsdale police K-9 unit, police said Wednesday.

The driver was the only one to survive Monday’s fiery crash. He is being held by juvenile authorities on three counts of manslaughter.

By Thursday morning, a makeshift memorial sprang up around the scorched tree where the vehicle caught fire. Someone left balloons and teddy bears. Scrawled into the tree was the message, "Watch over us," a heart and Lil Randy. Another message read, "Let the innocent children live on."

Memorial marks spot of deadly crash

Messages scrawled on a charred tree are photographed on Thursday, June 30, 2022, where a vehicle crashed at 120 South New Florissant Road in Florissant on Monday, killing three young boys. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

Florissant police haven’t named the boy who was driving the SUV or released names of any of the boys who died. The driver and a 9-year-old victim were cousins, police said. Two 13-year-old boys also died. They were not related to anyone in the vehicle.

None of the victims has been positively identified by the medical examiner’s office; it might take dental records or DNA to do that officially.

Meanwhile, Florissant police officers have spoken with the boys’ family members, who are experiencing “tremendous hurt,” police said on social media.

The four boys were in a vehicle that crashed about 1:45 a.m. Monday in the 100 block of South New Florissant Road. The SUV burst into flames.

They were in a former police vehicle — one that the Hillsdale Police Department used to use for its K9 officer. It was a 2011 Ford Expedition that had been sold to a tow company, police disclosed Wednesday. The SUV was then legally purchased by a relative of the 13-year-old boy who was driving it Monday. The boy took the SUV without his relative’s knowledge, police said.

Even though the Hillsdale police SUV had been decommissioned, police said, the vehicle still was equipped with the K-9 partition behind the rear seat, separating it from the rear cargo area. It wasn’t clear from the police announcement if that partition had any impact in the rescue efforts. Police officers had tried to get to the boys but couldn’t because of the fire, a police spokesman said.

Speed and inexperienced driving contributed to the crash, Florissant police said. Police haven’t divulged how fast the accident-reconstruction team thinks the SUV had been traveling. South New Florissant Road has a speed limit of 35 mph, but neighbors say traffic routinely ignores that posted limit.

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