PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) — A Kentucky teenager accused of a string of crimes across the South said in a jailhouse interview that he and his girlfriend were trying to escape her abusive family and that he wishes he had bought bus tickets instead of stealing trucks as they moved toward Florida.
Officials say Dalton Hayes, 18, and girlfriend Cheyenne Phillips, 13, began their run from the law and their families earlier this month when they vanished from their small hometown of Leitchfield, Kentucky.
Hayes told The News Herald of Panama City that they just wanted to escape Phillips’ family, who were beating her, and planned to make it to Miami. Officials and others said Tuesday that they did not know of any allegations of abuse.
“All I had to do was tell her to go home and none of this would’ve happened, but it’s hard to tell someone getting beat on to go home,” Hayes said. “But, if I could go back, I’d be paying for bus rides instead of stealing trucks.”
The abuse allegations are “something we’ll talk about when they get back to Kentucky,” Grayson County Sheriff Norman Chaffins told The Associated Press. He said he was unaware of any previous accusations of abuse.
No phone number was listed for the girl’s father, and an email was returned as undeliverable. Her mother was in jail Tuesday on a charge of custodial interference. She has denied interview requests from media outlets, according to the jail.
The pair’s travels took them to South Carolina and Georgia and included a night in a frigid barn, Hayes said. The pair were arrested late Saturday in Panama City Beach after authorities found them sleeping in a stolen vehicle.
Hayes agreed in court Monday to return to Kentucky to face charges. He is expected to be charged in Kentucky with burglary, theft, criminal trespassing and criminal mischief. Phillips will face charges in juvenile court.
“It ain’t like we were killing cops and robbing stores,” unlike the notorious outlaws Bonnie and Clyde, to whom the couple were compared in some media reports, Hayes said. “We just went on a few high-speed chases.”
Tammy Martin, Hayes’ mother, said she did not know of any abuse allegations. “I have no idea about any of that. … She was here pretty much every day,” she told The Associated Press in a phone interview.
“I never got any hints of that whatsoever. Met both her mother and father, and they both seem like, you know, nice people.”
On Saturday afternoon, a Panama City Beach resident alerted police after recognizing Phillips as she left a Target. She was wearing the same pink and brown boots in pictures posted online.
“I questioned it and kept looking at the picture, but it kind of made sense,” Steve Colford said. “If I was teenager on the run, I’d come to Panama City Beach.”
Florida’s Department of Children & Families took Phillips to a safe house to make arrangements to return home.
Martin said the couple had been dating for about three months. She said the girl portrayed herself as being 19. By the time her son realized she was only 13, “he was already done in love with her,” Martin said.
He faces burglary and theft charges in his home county, stemming from an arrest late last year. He was planning to be at the local judicial center 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.
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