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1 of 2 teens arrested in chase charged with murder

Police believe chase began after store clerk was shot during robbery

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Two teenagers who led deputies on a high-speed chase through three counties Tuesday afternoon are facing charges in Clay County, and one of them is also charged with murder in the shooting death of a St. Augustine store clerk.

Sergio Demario Morgan-Wideman, 15, is charged with murder and robbery with a deadly weapon in St. Johns County. He also faces charges of grand theft auto and resisting police without violence in Clay County.

Andre Jerome Robinson Jr., 16, was charged in Clay County with two felonies: fleeing and eluding law enforcement and grand theft auto.

The boys appeared in court in Clay County on those charges Wednesday morning. Morgan-Wideman, who is from St. Augustine, will return to Clay County court for arraignment on June 3. Robinson, who was born in St. Augustine and was living in Gainesville, is scheduled for arraignment on May 27. The judge said other charges, perhaps more serious, from other jurisdictions could be coming for Robinson.

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Deputies believe the two are connected to the shooting death of a St. Augustine store clerk at the Tobacco and Beverage Express on Masters Drive.

Deputies said Malav Desai was shot in the head during an attempted robbery of the store about 2 p.m. Tuesday.

The suspects fled in a black Jeep Grand Cherokee and led police through St. Johns, Putnam and Clay counties before they were stopped on U.S. 17 by a deputy's PIT maneuver, authorities said.

During the chase, a deputy deployed stop sticks at the intersection of U.S. 17 and JP Hall Boulevard. The sticks hit the passenger side of the Jeep, deflating the rear passenger tire. The driver, Robinson, immediately swerved across the median into oncoming traffic and tried to turn southbound on U.S. 17, but then swerved back across the median and continued northbound, according to the police report.

The report said Robinson swerved in and out of traffic while continuing north on U.S. 17 at more than 100 mph. The jeep missed spike strips that had been deployed in the 4200 block of U.S. 17 and in the 1400 block of Orange Avenue.

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Robinson continued northbound through a red light at South Orange Avenue and Leonard C. Taylor Parkway, driving over the median to pass vehicles, the report said. Robinson then crossed the median at the 800 block of North Orange Avenue and continued north in the southbound lanes until traffic cleared and he swerved back into the northbound travel lanes.

The deputies in pursuit got authorization to perform a PIT maneuver, and one of the deputies struck the rear of the jeep, causing Robinson to lose control on the Governors Creek Bridge on Orange Avenue. No one was injured in the chase and the teens were arrested.

The police report said Morgan-Wideman refused to unlock the passenger door, and a Palatka police officer broke the window and unlocked the door.

Earlier in the chase, a Putnam County Sheriff's deputy in a cruiser spotted the suspects while driving down U.S. 17, deputies said. When the deputy, 37-year-old Benjamin Boots, tried to turn around and give chase, the deputy's cruiser was hit by another car from behind. That car was driven by 20-year-old Tyler Messom, who had a 10-year-old girl in the car. No one was injured in the crash.

After investigation, police found the Jeep had been stolen from Daytona Beach, officials said. The police report also said Morgan-Wideman had been reported as a missing runaway.

According to officials, a vendor and witnesses were inside the convenience store on Masters Drive in St. Augustine at 2 p.m. when someone came into the store wearing a blue hoodie and a red bandanna. According to the police report, Desai was shot in the head as he was handing over the money.

Desai died within minutes.

The store remained closed Wednesday. Friends and family have started a memorial for Desai outside, with flowers, cards and a candle.

Morgan-Wideman lived with his mother, Maria Hardy, in an apartment only blocks from the store.

"I'm just as shocked and hurt as everybody else is," Hardy said when she opened the door. 

She said he had been in trouble before, but nothing as serious as this.

Ben Douse, who attended St. Augustine High School with Morgan-Wideman, said he was surprised and shocked to hear about the shooting.

"He just walks around the neighborhood and uses his phone and stuff," Douse said. "Never seen him say an unkind thing to anyone."

No one answered the door at Robinson's Gainesville home.