A sheriff’s deputy fatally shot two teenagers in Central New York on Wednesday after they tried to run him over with a car they had stolen and then used while breaking into two smoke shops, officials said.
New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, said in a news release that her office had opened an investigation into the shooting, as it does whenever a law enforcement officer may have caused the death of a person.
The shooting, in the town of DeWitt, occurred about 10 hours after a group of six teenagers stole two cars — a Kia and a Hyundai, makes that are popular with thieves — in nearby Syracuse Tuesday night, Sheriff Toby Shelley of Onondaga County said at a news conference.
The deputy who fired the fatal shots was responding to a call about suspicious activity involving the stolen cars, which had been linked to the overnight burglaries, Sheriff Shelley said. There were three teenagers in each of the cars, he said.
When the deputy arrived and began to approach the vehicles on foot, one drove off and the other drove directly at him, Sheriff Shelley said. The deputy fired three shots at the car, which then drove away, the sheriff said. When the car was found later, two teenagers were in it, the sheriff said. One was dead, and efforts to keep the other alive were unsuccessful.
Sheriff Shelley, citing what he said was video footage filmed by a witness, said the encounter had “happened very quickly and hectically.” The witness’s video footage was not made public as of Wednesday night. The deputy’s body-worn camera did not capture the shooting because “he most likely did not have time” to turn the device on, the sheriff said.
“He had no options,” the sheriff said of the deputy’s decision to fire at the car, adding that “the deputies have a right to defend themselves by whatever means necessary.”
The investigation into the shooting was continuing, Sheriff Shelley said. Under departmental policy, the deputy, whose name was not released, had been placed on paid administrative leave for 72 hours, the sheriff said. The victims’ names and precise ages were not released. The authorities had been in touch with their families, the sheriff said.
Thefts of certain Kia and Hyundai models have become rampant because they lack engine immobilizers. TikTok videos that give step-by-step instructions about how to start the cars without a key have helped fuel the surge.
In New York City, nearly 2,000 of the vehicles have been stolen this year, officials said, up from about 300 last year, with teenagers responsible for many of the thefts.
After stealing the cars, thieves have sometimes done serious, even deadly, damage. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in February that stolen Kias and Hyundais had been involved in at least 14 crashes and eight fatalities.