IOWA CITY — A car crash Tuesday in downtown Iowa City is the third incident this month involving a vehicle stolen by juveniles from an area residential facility for troubled youth, Iowa City police say.
A vehicle driven by a missing juvenile from Four Oaks, 1916 Waterfront Drive, struck multiple vehicles near the corner of College and Gilbert streets about 2 p.m. Tuesday, said Iowa City Police Sgt. Derek Frank in an email.
No injuries were reported, but multiple vehicles sustained “extensive damage,” Frank said. A 16-year-old and 17-year-old were in the car at the time of the collision, he added.
Iowa City resident Mike Finlayson, who came across the scene of the crash a few minutes after it occurred, described it as a “mess.”
Finlayson said multiple vehicles had been struck, with one hit so hard it had spun around 180 degrees.
“I just saw a lot of chaos,” Finlayson recalled. “If those cars weren’t there, they would have been up on the sidewalk.”
Police expect charges against multiple juveniles involved in the incident, Frank said, including some who were not in the vehicle when it crashed.
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The vehicle was reported stolen earlier Tuesday from the Bon Aire Mobile Home Lodge in southeast Iowa City.
Frank said the car theft is the third this month involving youth from Four Oaks.
On April 18, five juveniles — ages 13 to 16 — from Four Oaks were found in West Liberty in a car that had been reported stolen from Pinto Lane in Iowa City earlier that day. Each of the five was charged with first-degree theft, a Class D felony.
On April 10, five juveniles from Four Oaks, ages 10 to 15, several of whom were involved in the April 18 theft, were found in Muscatine County near a car stolen from the Bon Aire Mobile Home Lodge. The victim didn’t seek charges in that case.
Frank said the string of car thefts is unusual, but incidents involving Four Oaks juveniles aren’t.
“Unfortunately, we respond to reports of missing juveniles from (Four Oaks) routinely and trust they are exploring ideas to change the situation in their facility that leads to these,” Frank said in an email.
Brenda Myers, community engagement officer with Four Oaks, cited privacy rights of individuals and said Four Oaks does not comment on specific cases.
In a Wednesday media statement, Myers noted that Four Oaks Emergency Youth Shelter in Iowa City, which is licensed by the Iowa Department of Human Services, offers temporary placement for youth ages 10 to 17. Youth served may have been severely traumatized, abused, neglected or may have mental health issues or delinquent behaviors, Myers added.
Per licensing, the facility is not locked and staff are not allowed to physically prevent youth from leaving the building.
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“In those instances when children leave the building without permission, licensing requires us to inform law enforcement and we notify the youth’s family,” she said in the statement. “We also notify the respective DHS or Juvenile Court Services referring staff who makes decisions about whether or not the youth returns to our facility.”
Earlier this month, a juvenile and two employees from Four Oaks were injured during what Marion police called a “significant disturbance” at the facility. Four juveniles were arrested.
Earlier this year, Marion Police Chief Joseph McHale expressed concerns about the residential facility, noting at the time that Four Oaks ranked third in the city in a list of locations with the most calls for service.
In February, Kelli Malone, Four Oaks’ chief program officer, said the Marion facility is home to boys who have experienced “severe trauma,” which can result in challenging behaviors.
“That’s our job, to deal with those challenging behaviors,” Malone told The Gazette.
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